Dr. Runoko Rashidi is an anthropologist and historian with a major focus on what he calls the Global African Presence–that is, Africans outside of Africa before and after enslavement. He is the author or editor of twenty-two books, the most recent of which are My Global Journeys in Search of the African Presence, Assata-Garvey and Me: A Global African Journey for Children in 2017, and The Black Image in Antiquity in 2019. His other works include Black Star: The African Presence in Early Europe, published by Books of Africa in London in November 2011, and African Star over Asia: The Black Presence in the East, published by Books of Africa in London in November 2012 and revised and reprinted in April 2013, Uncovering the African Past: The Ivan Van Sertima Papers, published by Books of Africa in 2015. His other works include the African Presence in Early Asia, co-edited by Dr. Ivan Van Sertima. Four of Runoko’s works have been published in French.
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On April 23, 1964, Adalberta Monica Rey Gutierrez was born in Comunidad Marca, Bolivia. She lived with her mother Florentina Gutiérrez Barra and her step-father Simeón Rey Barra, both Simeón and Florentina worked in agriculture to provide for their family. Monica was a great student who consistently excelled in her schooling. At the age of eleven, Monica and her family moved to the city of La Paz, Bolivia, where she began attending a boarding school named Hogar y Colegio Ave María. Monica’s intellectual prowess helped her graduate from Hogar y Colegio Ave Maria as the first Afro-Bolivian to earn a diploma from the school. After graduating from boarding school, Monica continued her education by attending the Higher University of San Andrés. She went on to graduate from the university in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in social communications, her thesis titled Saya as Mode of Communication and Cultural Expression in the Afro-Bolivian Community, was groundbreaking in that it was the first time someone presented thorough and accurate research about the Afro-Bolivian people. The thesis focused on a musical and dancing aspect of Afro-Bolivian culture called Saya. Saya is important to Afro-Bolivian culture and Monica used her thesis to articulate its importance to non-Afro-Bolivians.
In 1989, Monica became a leader within the Afro-Bolivian Saya Cultural Movement, which became an official organization that same year. The organization’s objective was to protect Afro-Bolivian people and culture while bringing Afro-Bolivian culture to the forefront and breaking the stereotypes. The Afro-Bolivian Saya Cultural Movement was able to apply enough pressure on the Bolivian government to change the way Afro-Bolivians were recognized. The terms Negrito, which means little black person, and Moreno, which means dark-colored people, were replaced with Afro-Bolivians. The people made sure they were recognized as both African and Bolivian. Afro-Bolivians had a victory but still more gains were needed. In 1994, Monica led a march for the recognition of Afro-Bolivian people on the grounds of the presidential palace because they needed their demands met. In 2001, Monica stepped down as the president of the Afro-Bolivian Saya Cultural Movement. In more groundbreaking work, Monica was able to work with an organization to conduct surveys on Afro-Bolivian people, studying them and acquire the needed information about the people for the first time.
The Inter-American Development Bank founded the research project, which led to the report titled Diagnostic of the Situation of the Black Community in Bolivia, which for the first time reported an estimate of the size of the Afro-Bolivian population, which was around 20,000. Monica followed the diagnostic report with a collaboration with Fundación Simón y Patiño in 1998, with the production of the booklet The Main Drum, a booklet that displayed the history and culture of Afro-Bolivian people. She became the General Directorate of Archaeology and Anthropology for a year before taking a position as a professor at the Franz Tamayo Private University. She taught at Franz Tamayo Private University for five years before taking a position as a professor at the Higher University of San Andrés. From 1990 to 2009 Monica served as an ambassador for Afro-Bolivian people, and in 2009 she became the Director-General of the Fight Against Racism within the Vice-Ministry of Decolonization. In 2010, She became the advisor to the Office of the Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy.
Because of the work Monica was doing, Afro-Bolivian people were allowed to participate in government for the first time in history. The National Council of Afro-Bolivians was formed and Monica served as the secretary. Afro-Bolivians were recognized as an individual ethnic group within the Bolivian census for the first time. Monica continued to achieve and is still achieving to this day. In 2014, she became the supranational deputy in the Chamber of Deputies of the administration of President Evo Morales, along with becoming the Director-General of Consumer Protection in the Ministry of Productive Development. In 2016, she introduced legislation to protect the human and civil rights of the Afro-Bolivian people. She dedicated her life’s work to helping her people and fighting racism. Afro-Bolivian people have more human rights and recognition because of the work of Monica Rey Gutierrez. To Adalberta Monica Rey Gutierrez, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On April 17th, 1929, Marimba Ba was born in Dakar, Senegal, to parents who were educated and prosperous. Her mother died when she was a young girl, and her father became the Minister of Health for Senegal in 1956, he also worked as a civil servant before becoming the minister of health. Her grandfather was said to be a translator for the French during his time. After the death of her mother, Ba was raised by her father and maternal grandparents who made sure she received an adequate education. She was educated in the French traditions coupled with Quranic teachings; her grandparents made sure she learned Islamic values. Ba was an excellent student who at the age of fourteen earned the highest test scores for her age group. As Ba grew older, her thirst for knowledge and education was being challenged by traditional Islamic culture; her grandparents didn’t believe that a young woman should be educated because of their traditions, but Ba and her father held a different opinion about education. Ba’s father backed her decision to educate herself and helped her enroll in the Ecole Normale, or the Teacher Training College in the city of Rufisque, Senegal. She graduated from the training college in 1947 and became a teacher for twelve years.
During her time as a teacher, Ba met and married a man named Obeye Diop. The couple produced nine children before divorcing and Ba becoming a single mother of nine children. Ba’s health started to decline during the latter years of her teaching, so she transitioned her career to become an educational inspector for the Senegalese Regional Inspectorate of Teaching. Ba was regarded as one of Senegal’s most exceptional and prized teachers despite her retiring early from teaching. She was later honored for her teaching in 1977 when a school was founded in her name by Senegal’s President Leopold Senghor. Marimba Ba was a single mother raising nine children and able to provide for her family in a society where the men are usually the primary provider for a family. This was also where Ba’s activism for women’s and human rights began. European neocolonialism was continuously spreading throughout Africa and was a threat to the African nations that were newly independent or developed nations. Ba was at the forefront of the fight against neocolonialism and women’s rights in Senegal.
Her next move was publishing her first novel titled So Long A Letter in 1979, which became a critically acclaimed and Noma Award-winning novel. So Long A Letter was a novel that gave a history of the contributions of Senegalese women, it was also a peek into the life of Ba and other women in Senegal, and the challenges they faced to exist as women. She used her novels and community work to help fight discrimination against women, along with fighting the racist practices the French implemented in Senegal. In 1981, Marimba Ba died due to complications with cancer. Her second novel Scarlet Song was published in 1986, and similar to her first novel So Long A Letter, Scarlet Song was also a successful novel that focused on an interracial relationship in a traditional Senegalese society. Ba was just as adamant about restoring Senegalese culture before its French and Islamic influences, as she was about fighting discrimination against the women of Senegal. She was proud of her people and her culture.
Ba’s third novel, La Fonction politique des littératures africaines écrites, was focused on encouraging African people to be proud of who they are, where they are from, and their own cultural practices. She was unsatisfied with the way the women were treated, and unsatisfied with the forced influences of the French through colonialism. Marimba Ba is the first woman in Senegal to publish a novel, and it was fitting that her writings challenged the oppressive traditions of Senegal against its women, and even against its men due to colonial influences. Ba experienced hardships and successes. She was supported by her father early in her journey, which helped her to be intentional and fearless in her pursuit of freedom and liberation for her people. Marimba Ba, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On May 2, 1879, Nannie Helen Burroughs was born in Orange, Virginia, to parents John and Jennie Burroughs, who were formerly enslaved. Mr. John Burroughs worked as a farmer and was also a Baptist Preacher. Nannie was the eldest of the Burroughs’ children; when she was five years old her father died forcing her family to move to Washington D.C. to live with her aunt Cordelia Mercer. The Burroughs family has a history of gaining skills to create income for survival, Burroughs and her mother were able to bring those skills with them to Washington D.C. to make a living. The Burroughs family took full advantage of the plethora of opportunities available for them in Washington D.C. Nannie was a bright and gifted student who shined in her academic studies. Her academic prowess continued throughout her schooling, helping her graduate with honors from M Street High School in Washington D.C. As a high school student, Burroughs was active within her school’s activities. She was the organizer of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Literary Society at M Street High School. She was also able to study business and domestic sciences giving her a number of skills to make a decent living. Burroughs’ fire and determination led her to meet two women who were active within the women’s suffrage movement that inspired her, Anna J. Cooper and Mary Church Terrell.
After graduating from high school in 1896, Burroughs sought a teaching job within the Washington D.C. school system; it is said that she didn’t get a teaching position because her skin was too dark. She was denied a teaching position by fellow blacks, but she didn’t allow that experience to stop her from teaching. In 1898, Burroughs moved to Louisville, Kentucky to work for the National Baptist Convention as an editorial secretary and bookkeeper for the Foreign Mission Board. Burroughs was one of the founding women of the Women’s Convention, which helped to serve the National Baptist Convention. She served with the Women’s Convention for forty-seven years and was the president for thirteen years. At the time, the National Baptist Convention was considered one of the largest African American organizations for black women. The National Baptist Convention received help from the National Association of Colored Women to serve black women in America, one of the outcomes of the partnership was the creation of the National Association of Wage Earners, an organization that was created to help black women earn better wages. Burroughs served as the president of the National Association of Wage Earners and Mary McLeod Bethune served as the Vice President of the organization. In addition to being a member of the National Association of Wage Earners and the National Baptist Convention, she served with the NAACP and around six other organizations.
Burroughs began working with Herbert Hoover around 1928 to help with black home and land ownership, she also gave her famous speech "How White and Colored Women Can Cooperate in Building a Christian Civilization," in 1938, at the Virginia Women's Missionary Union at Richmond. As a response to her not being able to teach in Washington D.C. and the continued discrimination black women faced in America at the time, Burroughs decided to open her own school for women called the National Training School in 1908. The school started in a farmhouse and gave women who could only take classes in the evening a chance to earn an education. Because Burroughs was such a great teacher, the word spread quickly increasing the popularity of the school, which meant the enrollment drastically increased. Burroughs was using the school to help prepare black women to become the greatest versions of themselves, and in turn, help all of Black America become the greatest version of its self. The school was shaped by their three B motto: the bible, the bath, and the broom. In addition to the skills the women were learning, Burroughs made sure there was an emphasis on teaching black history, so she created her own black history course for her students. Burroughs was preparing the black women of the National Training School to combat the wage labor problems affecting black women, and negative images of black people by the white media. The women were prepared to combat racism, elevate themselves and their race, and do whatever work needed to be done to be able to strive despite being victimized by racism.
Burroughs was a popular person because of her efforts to educate and equip black women to be self-sufficient and create a reasonable living, but she was seen as a villain by those who wanted black women to stay silent and only engage in domestic work. Her being rejected by the blacks within the Washington D.C. school system was a blessing in disguise. She was able to help many black women from poor backgrounds who would have been overlooked by the so-called black elite. Her grassroots efforts helped generations of black women find their callings outside of their homes. During the 1920s, Burroughs wrote and published two plays, The Slabtown District Convention and Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight? Nannie Hellen Burroughs died in 1961 of natural causes, leaving behind a legacy of service and commitment to her people. The National Training School was renamed the Nannie Hellen Burroughs School in 1964. During and after her life she was honored by receiving an honorary Master of Arts degree from Eckstein Norton University in 1907, May 10th of 1975 Nannie Helen Burroughs Day was declared in Washington D.C., and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue was named after her. To the incredible Ms. Nannie Helen Burroughs, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On January 9th, 1945, Altheia Jones-LeCointe was born to parents Viola and Dunstan Jones in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Altheia was described as vibrant and exceptional as a young girl because she was intellectually gifted. Her college career started in the city of Barataria, where she attended St George’s College, and after earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees she attended the University College London and earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1965. As a college student political activism became a part of Altheia’s life. After earning her Ph.D. she became a teacher and a member of the Universal Coloured People’s Association (UCPA), an organization where she was one of the main organizers helping to fight against racism against African and Asian people. In 1968, the Universal Coloured People’s Association was led by a Nigerian novelist, playwright, and political activist, Obi Egbuna, but he was arrested and imprisoned because of his political activism with the UCPA and the British Black Panthers. Altheia soon assumed leadership roles within the UCPA and the British Black Panthers. Her leadership helped to revive both organizations and the energy behind the political movements.
As a visible leader of the Black British movements against racism and oppression of African and Asian people, Altheia was able to increase the memberships of both the UCPA and the British Black Panthers through recruitment, as well as, building relationships with fellow anti-racism activists in London. Darcus Howe and Altheia’s husband Eddie LeCointe were two of the most notable names recruited to join the British Black Panthers. Altheia’s reputation as an incredible talent with intellectual gifts followed her even as an activist; she successfully used her intelligence to debate for the Black Panther Youth League, and she also taught classes to the youth about anti-colonialism. She was a fearless person and a talented public speaker. Her impact helped to make black women in London fighting against racism more visible. Altheia also made sure black women were not overlooked, suppressed, or victims of sexual abuse as a leader of the British Black Panthers; it is said that anyone who harbored sexist views did not last long within the organization.
Under the leadership of Altheia Jones-LeCointe, the British Black Panthers’ membership increased by more than three thousand people, they created the Freedom News newspaper and created community programs similar to the Black Panthers in the United State. Altheia was never officially declared the de-facto leader of the British Black Panthers, but her leadership skills prevailed and helped the organization thrive. The Mangrove Restaurant was very popular within London’s black population, it was owned by a man named Frank Crichlow, and became the main meeting place of black political activists. It also became targeted by the London police because they wanted black people to stay in their place and just accept racism as the norm. After being harassed by the police Altheia and other activists organized a protest against the constant police raids of the Mangrove in 1970. There were over one-hundred and fifty protestors being opposed by more than 200 police officers. The protest became violent due to the police antagonizing the protestors, which led to Altheia and eight other figures being arrested. The Mangrove Nine was the name of Altheia and her eight other comrades who were arrested protesting police harassment.
Darcus Howe and Altheia Jones-LeCointe were the only two of the Mangrove Nine to represent themselves in court, they were determined to stand up for themselves and expose the police as a group of thugs who only harassed black people. After a long and arduous trial, the Mangrove Nine all walked free from being convicted of any crimes; the police were exposed for targeting the Mangrove Nine because of their race. At the time, the trial of the Mangrove Nine was the longest trial in British history, and an important trial exposing the racist history of the British against black resistance. The events of the Mangrove Nine are depicted in documentaries and television series’ such as The Mangrove Nine, Sky Atlantic, Small Axe, and How the Mangrove Nine Won. Altheia Jones- LeCointe’s story is not a widely told story, in fact, in the television series Sky Atlantic, Altheia was not depicted at all. She was a black-Caribbean woman who was proud of who she was and where she was from, she was also a leader, warrior, and nurturer for her people. She directly challenged the London police and their constant harassment of her and her people and came out victorious. To Dr. Altheia Jones-LeCointe, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On March 23, 1942, Walter Anthony Rodney was born to parents Edward and Pauline Rodney in Georgetown, Guyana. Rodney’s family was considered working class, but he was still able to excel in his academics as a young boy. During high school he continued to excel which led him to graduate at the top of his Queen’s College class of 1960; Queen’s College was the top male high school in Guyana. Because of his academic excellence, he earned a scholarship to attend the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. In typical Walter Rodney fashion, he graduated at the top of his class with honors and a degree in history in 1963. His next step was attending the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of the West Indies, where at the age of twenty-four he was an honors student who earned his Ph.D. in African History. His dissertation “A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 to 1800” was so exceptional that the Oxford University Press published it in 1970.
While earning his master’s and Ph.D., Rodney was a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania from 1966 to 1967. He served as a professor at the university for a second stint from 1967 to 1974, moving into his rise as a political activist. As a college student, his popularity was increasing because of his ability to speak to the public as well as his participation in the demonstrations against the Jamaican government. Rodney was meeting with human rights groups that represented the poor, Rastafarians, and anyone who was mistreated by the government. He even became an acquaintance and student to the Caribbean legend CLR James. Because of his affiliations, Rodney was being targeted by the Jamaican government and labeled as a problem. Rodney wanted the government to stop the oppression of its people. Black Power, Black Liberation, and Black Consciousness were the core of his messages. Using his academic prowess, he learned four additional languages to help him become more proficient and skilled at researching the history of his people.
In 1968, after returning to Jamaica from a conference in Montreal, Canada, Rodney was denied re-entry into Jamaica, which caused a riot that started in Kingston called “The Rodney Riots”. In 1969, he published his first book Groundings With My Brothers, a book that focuses on the decolonization of Africa and the Caribbean, and the promotion of Black Power. In 1968, Rodney would move to Cuba before moving back to Tanzania. While in Tanzania, he found work as a lecturer which allowed him to travel and witness the effects of European colonization on Africa and its people. In 1972, Walter Rodney published his groundbreaking book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. A book that highlights the colonization and exploitation of Africa and its people by European colonies. Rodney used his platform to create intellectual spaces of discussion to help analyze their current conditions and create solutions to change them. These discussions coincided with the Sixth Pan-African Congress which was held in Tanzania in 1974. Also in 1974, Rodney moved back to Guyana after accepting a position as a professor at the University of Guyana. The offer was eventually rejected by the government of Guyana, or more specifically the People’s National Congress. To make a living, Rodney moved his family to the United States to teach and further his mission of ending the oppression of black people under the colonial powers.
In 1979, Rodney along with seven other people was arrested and charged with arson after being accused of burning down government offices. In 1981, he published two books, Marx in the Liberation of Africa and A History of the Guyanese Working People 1881 to 1905. His books shed light on the oppression of people because of race and class and gave information on overcoming differences in the name of unity and upliftment. The organization the Working People’s Alliance was formed in 1974, Rodney joined and eventually became a leader in the organization. They went on to successfully unite people from Africa and East India as a political party that challenged the Guyanese government. Because of his activism in the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States, Rodney was targeted by several governments and labeled as a trouble maker. He was often harassed by various police forces and dealt with constant threats to his life. In June of 1980, Walter Rodney was assassinated by a military officer using a remote control bomb. Rodney was thirty-Eight years old. Before his death, he left the world a great legacy of a freedom fighter who demanded liberation for his people. He was recognized and honored for his contributions to the world. Over 18 awards, foundations, and conferences were named in honor of Walter Rodney. He published twelve books and twenty-two other publications. He used his intelligence and bravery to give a voice to the people he witnessed being oppressed, his people. To the great Walter Rodney, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
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Juan Gualberto Gomez was born free of enslavement, on a sugar plantation to parents Fermin Gómez and Serafina Ferrer, in Matanzas, Cuba, on July 12, 1854. His parents were able to purchase his freedom before his birth, which allowed him to be able to learn to read and write. Because of the existence of slavery, most people of African descent were not able to read and write; Gomez’s parents used their money to enroll him into school at Our Lady of the Forsaken, in Havana, Cuba, to further his education. 1968 was the beginning of the “Ten Years” War, which was an uprising by Cuban planters and indigenous Cubans within the Cuban fight for independence against Spain. Racial tension was high and led to a brawl between Spanish and Cuban groups at a theater. Gomez was a part of the brawl, and because of his participation, he was targeted by the Spanish. His parents sent him to school in Paris, France with the help of their former plantation owner Catalina Gómez. Juan Gomez was going to Paris to learn how to become a carriage maker, a profession that was seen to be most suitable for a Cuban of African descent. While in Paris learning to become a carriage maker, Gomez’s teacher noticed his high level of intelligence and convinced Gomez’s parents to spend their money on him earning a formal education in engineering school.
In 1872, Gomez earned a job as a translator for Cuban independence leaders Francisco Vicente Aguilera and General Manuel de Quesada, who was looking for funding for the fight for Cuban independence. War and political strife broke out in France while Gomez was matriculating through his schooling, and because of the political climate, Gomez along with other Parisians began experiencing economic hardships. Two years later Gomez’s parents informed him that they could no longer support his education because of their economic downturn. Gomez decided to become self-sufficient. He began working full-time at the Journal and Theater Gazette Newspaper. Gomez working at the newspaper allowed him to merge his activism with his newfound love for journalism. He was able to create a persona as a journalist who is also a political activist, public speaker, and an important member of the Cuban fight for independence. In 1878, Gomez moved back to Cuba after a trip to Mexico to meet with Cuban abolitionist Nicolas Azcarate. During the meeting with Azacarte, he learned about the Cubans being defeated during the “Ten Years War,” so he moved back to help rejuvenate the Cuban fight for independence.
After returning to Cuba, Gomez bonded with a fellow Cuban in the fight for independence named Jose Marti. Gomez and Marti began planning for an uprising known as the “Little War”, an uprising that began in 1879. Also in 1879, Gomez started a newspaper called The Brotherhood. During the early phase of Gomez operating The Brotherhood, he was exiled to Spain for ten years because of his role in the “Little War”. During his ten years in Spain, Gomez was able to write for several newspapers, continuing to sharpen his journalism skills and continuing his part in the Cuban fight for independence. In 1890, Gomez was able to return to Cuba, where he and Marti picked up where they left off ten years ago. They began planning an uprising that went unnoticed by Spanish authorities, which led to a surprise attack on Spanish forces in February of 1895. The rebellion was not successful. It is believed that this rebellion and many of the other early rebellions were unsuccessful because of the lack of support from the people of Cuba. On February 28, 1895, Gomez was captured by the Spanish and sentenced to twenty years in prison, but he only actually served three years. After his release, Gomez moved to New York City and continued his fight for Cuban independence. Gomez along with Cuba’s Major General Calixto García traveled to Washington D.C. in 1898, to negotiate with the American government for funds to help the Cuban Liberation Army.
Between 1906 and 1909, Gomez was able to be a part of the committee that amended the Cuban Constitution and became a prominent voice speaking for Afro-Cubans on a national level against the racism Afro-Cubans were facing. Gomez and his fellow Cuban freedom fighters were not only fighting the physical domination by the Spanish, but they were also fighting the racial segregation the Spanish used against the Afro-Cubans. The idea was that Afro-Cubans were a threat to the whiteness or the Europeanness of the Spanish. Gomez became known as a dedicated freedom fighter for Afro-Cuban people, he defended Afro-Cubans from various backgrounds and professions and became the most recognizable face of the Afro-Cuban fight for independence.
As the memories of their fight for independence passed, Gomez and other Afro-Cuban leaders were beginning to be forgotten. Racial discrimination was increasing and impacting Afro-Cubans’ quality of life. In retaliation to the continued discrimination and political blackballing, the Afro-Cubans created their political party called the Independent Colored Party, a party that was created without Gomez. Ironically he opposed the party because he wanted a Cuba free of racial separation, but this party was created to deal with the current reality the Cubans were facing. In 1901, Gomez became a writer that used his writings to speak out against the U.S. interactions in Cuba looking to make Cuba a U.S. colony. Gomez died in 1933 at the age of 78 as an honored Cuban journalist and freedom fighter. An annual journalism prize was named after Gomez to honor the legacy he built during his continued fight for Afro-Cuban independence. Juan Gualberto Gomez, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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In 1807, the Slave Trade Act was passed which prohibited slavery within the British Empire, this was the first legal document that eventually led to the total abolishment of slavery. The act specifically prohibited the transportation of enslaved Africans within the British Empire. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed which made slavery illegal within the British Empire. Though the acts were passed, a system of apprenticeship was created for all enslaved people over the age of six, the apprentices were still enslaved and used as a labor force for the enslavers. The apprenticeships were officially ended in 1848 granting the enslaved Africans a brief moment of freedom. The Apprenticeships came to an end as a result of the continued protest by the enslaved African people in the Danish West Indies. After the enslaved Africans were freed, they were forced to sign contracts that basically reenslaved them to the plantations they were previously bound to.
The protest started on the Island of Saint Croix on October 1st of 1878, or “Contract Day”, as the African people gathered to protest the horrible working conditions they were forced to endure. Fredricksted was the site of the protest on the Island of Saint Croix. The gathering began as a peaceful protest against the inhumane treatment the African people faced, soon rumors of an African person being critically injured or killed by a Danish soldier spread quickly leading to the African people throwing stones at the soldiers. The soldiers opened fire upon the Africans before fencing themselves in a fort for protection. The Africans attempted to take over the fort but were unsuccessful,l so they began taking over and burning down around fifty plantations, homes, businesses, and more. Queen Mary, Queen Agnes, and Queen Mathilda were three of the leaders of the Rebellion. The rebellion is known as “The Fireburn” because the queens helped to burn down more than half of the city of Frederiksted. The Three Queens inspired their fellow African people to gain their freedom by any means.
The Danish fought the African people for two weeks to suppress the rebellion. The African people fought long and hard behind the leadership of the Three Queens, many lives were lost but the rebels were able to burn over nine-hundred acres of plantation land before the Danish suppressed the rebellion killing over one-hundred Africans. The Danish quickly established a rigged court system designed to determine the fate of over four-hundred rebels who were captured. Of the four-hundred Africans captured, twelve of them were killed by a firing squad, thirty-four of them were sentenced to hard labor for an extended amount of time, five of the rebels including the Three Queens were sentenced to a life of hard work in prison. A year after the rebellion the Danish forced the African people to sign new contracts that did not improve the working conditions for the Africans.
In 1882, Queen Mary was around the age of forty when she was shipped to a prison in Copenhagen, Denmark, before being sent back to Christiansted to serve her prison sentence until her death. Queen Mary was the most well-known of the Three Queens, she is said to be linked to every rebellion on the island of Saint Croix and was adamant about the rebels being committed to gaining their freedom. There isn’t much information about Queen Mathilda and Queen Agnes, we do know Queen Mathilda was only twenty-one years old when she joined the rebellion, she along with Queen Mary was the mother of three children. In 2005, the memory of the Three Queens was captured in the form of a memorial fountain called the “Three Queens Fountain” that overlooks Charlotte Amalie City on the Island of St. Thomas. These three remarkable women valued their lives, their freedom, and their people. They were willing to leave their families to fight for their freedom and the freedom of their people. To the Three Rebel Queens of the Fire Burn, Queen Mary, Queen Mathilda, and Queen Agnes, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Around the year 1851, an Ethiopian Nobel family who were descendants of royalty, Ras Betul Haile Maryam and his wife Yewibdar, gave birth to their third of four children Taytu Betul Hayle Maryam, a little girl who would grow up and become a legendary Ethiopian ruler. Taytu was born within the Oromo Ethiopian Empire and is linked to the Solomonic dynasties. It is said that as a young girl she was subjected to female genital mutilation which left her unable to bear children. Within the first month of her birth, she was baptized and given the baptismal name of Walatta Mikael. Around 1853, Taytu’s father died from lingering battle wounds, after a while, her mother remarried a man who was an administrator for the monastery in Debre Mewi, this is the location many people believe Taytu received her education. It was not common for Ethiopian women to receive an education at that time but Taytu was the exception, she could read and write in the Amharic language and could even understand the Ge’ez language. She was remarkably gifted, her hobbies were playing chess, writing poetry, and playing instruments such as the begenna and the lyre; both the begenna and the lyre are string instruments similar to a guitar.
Around the age of ten, Taytu was married to her first husband, a marriage that was not ideal or even lasting. Information suggests that her first husband committed a crime and was punished but Taytu was forced to experience her husband’s punishment with him. It is said that her second marriage ended after she was beaten by her husband. When she left him she was able to take a good portion of his wealth and servants with her. She would marry and divorce once more before she was married to the prominent Menelik II of Shewa, who would eventually become the Emperor of Ethiopia. At the time of Taytu and Menelik’s marriage, Melelik was heir to the Ethiopian Empire that was ruled by Tewodros II. It took around ten years before Menelik was able to escape the rule of Tewodros and eventually be named the ruler of Shewa in 1865. Taytu was an asset to the Ethiopian empire because of her brilliance as a leader which was displayed before and after her marriage to Menelik. She was able to deny the idea of reconstructing Ethiopia by a group of people considered progressive. With Taytu at his side, Menelik would be able to become Emperor of Ethiopia and build a powerful independent African Empire.
Because of her brilliance and bravery, Menelik would consult Taytu about matters that concerned his Empire, he believed in her and knew she would not betray him or their people. Menelik built partnerships with Italy and France who were looking to take control of African countries before the British were able to. With Italy and France considering Menelik as an Ally, Italy was also plotting on encroaching on Ethiopian land and eventually taking over, but not on Taytu’s watch. The Italian army was stationed along the border of Eritrea and had begun to move inland but Taytu was not going to sit back and watch her people be conquered. Menelik II officially became the de facto Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889 and immediately began to improve his empire. Menelik was influenced by Taytu to found the eventual Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa in 1886; a location that was chosen by Taytu. Menelik and Taytu went on to upgrade the empire by adding modernized roads and bridges, allowing them to be able to travel easier and engage in more trading. They implemented a tax system, created railways, a national bank, telephone service, hospitals, a medical system, a postal system, an updated education system, they even established a new system of currency within the empire. Ethiopia was an empire that was able to compete with the rest of the modern world.
Menelik’s power was challenged by rebel forces led by a man named Zegeye while he was away with most of his Army, Zegeye saw this as an opportunity to possibly seize power, he was not prepared for the bravery of the Empress of Ethiopia. Taytu received a letter stating that the capital city at the time Yejju would be overrun by rebel forces because the Empress did not have enough troops to fight back. Taytu wrote a letter back to Zegeye and the rebel forces, she also sent three hundred troops to defend the capital city. She replied to them stating that she doesn’t want to have an armed conflict with Zegeye, but if he decided to disrespect the empire she would become his mortal enemy and bring warfare to his front door. The rebel troops were afraid to attack the capital city and were eventually turned away by the royal troops who even captured some of the rebels. With or without her husband being present, Taytu was not one to be messed with. In 1889, Taytu played a huge role in the dissolving of the Treaty of Wuchale which Menelik signed with Italy, a treaty that was supposed to create a working relationship between Italy and Ethiopia. The problem with the treaty is that it was written in two languages, Italian and an Ethiopian language, the Italian version gave Italy legal power and control over Ethiopia. When Taytu learned of this she tore up the treaty and it led Menelik to declare war against Italy. Menelik and Taytu led one-hundred thousand forces against seventeen thousand Italian troops; the Italians would underestimate their African foes. Menelik ordered the first attack on the Italian forces but was unsuccessful in this attempt. Taytu devised a plan to cut the Italian water supply at the fort they were occupying. For nine days the fort was under siege with its water supply cut, the troops were forced to surrender and the Ethiopians took the fort.
The Battle of Adwa began in 1896. Led by Menelik and Taytu, the Ethiopian forces were able to use strategy and force to outsmart and outgun the Italians who suffered a great defeat. The Ethiopian victory over the Italians made front-page news worldwide embarrassing Italy. At that time not many African nations were victorious over European nations, also if an African nation was victorious it was not public news. Many European news outlets spread lies about Menelik and Taytu making them look like blood-thirsty monsters, but they were actually African leaders who defeated a “mighty” European nation. Many European nations resented Taytu because she convinced Menelik to defend his land and people rather than just become allies to European nations. I say she did what any self-respecting ruler would do, not sell out to their enemies. Menelik II suffered a major health issue in 1906 amid Tatytu tirelessly working to preserve her family’s power. Menelik named his grandson Iyasu his successor before dying in 1913. Iyasu was eventually replaced by Taytu’s granddaughter Zautitu as Empress of Ethiopia. Tatyu died in 1918, leaving a great legacy of helping Ethiopia become an African power under the rulership of Menelik II. She was able to uplift her nation, defeat a European nation, and empower black women all over the world. Taytu Betul Hayle Maryam, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On April 7th, 1842, Allen Allensworth was born into slavery in Louisville, Kentucky, to parents Levi and Phyllis Allensworth; Phyllis and Levi produced thirteen children, but like many enslaved families a number of their children were sold away, the other either ran away or brought their freedom. Allen was the youngest of his siblings and was given to Thomas, the son of Bett and A.P. Starbird as his personal slave; A.P. Starbird was the owner of Phyllis Allensworth. When Thomas began his schooling he would secretly teach Allen how to read, it was discovered that Allen was reading and he was immediately sent to live with a woman who was a Quaker named Mrs. Talbot, the irony was Mrs. Talbot continued to teach Allen how to read and write. Bett Starbird learned that Allen's education was continuing under the care of Mrs. Talbot, she took him back before sending him to live with her brother on a plantation in Henderson, Kentucky. Allen was under the ownership of Mr. Smith who was set on preventing him from learning anything more than what he already knew; he was also assigned as a house slave and was often punished for attempting to read, these events led him to his first attempt at escaping slavery, which was unsuccessful.
After a few failed attempts at escaping slavery, Allen was eventually sold to a man named Fred Scruggs in Jefferson, Louisiana, where he became a jockey racing the horses owned by Fred Scruggs; because Allen could read and was pretty good at racing horses he was seen as valuable to Scruggs. Allen still longed for his freedom. Around 1862, Allen encountered a group of soldiers from the 44th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, he expressed his longing for freedom, the soldiers invited him to join the Hospital Corps associated with them and he accepted the invitation. As the regiment was leaving Louisville they gave Allen some of their clothing to hide from his slave master, he also covered his face with mud altering his look allowing him to slip past his master gaining his freedom. With his newfound freedom, Allen continued with the Hospital Corps as a nursing aide before enlisting with the US Navy. While in the Navy, Allen not only received his first payment as a free man he served on the gunboats Queen City and Tawah and was promoted to the Captain's Stewart and Clerk.
After serving two years on the Queen City and Tawah Allen moved back to Kentucky, he then moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he reunited with his brother William, the two opened two restaurants before they eventually sold the restaurants. Allen moved back to Louisville and enrolled into the Ely Normal School to continue his education, he later began teaching children at a Freedmen’s Bureau school before enrolling into the Nashville Institute which was later named Roger Williams University. Allen did not graduate but he was eventually given an honorary Masters of Arts from Roger Williams University. His next step was studying theology in Tennessee in 1870, in 1871 he was ordained as a Baptist Preacher after becoming a regular attendee of the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and began preaching in Franklin, Tennessee. Allen became a teacher in Georgetown, Kentucky in 1875, he also became a financial agent for the General Association of the Colored Baptists in Kentucky. Allen, along with other black teachers and preachers in Kentucky joined together to found The State University which is now the Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically black college. Allen not only helped to found the university but he also helped to determine the salary of the university’s president at the time and served on the board of trustees.
His next accomplishment was becoming the Pastor of the Harney Street Baptist Church where he helped to increase the size of the congregation so much that a new building needed to be built and the church was renamed to the Centennial Baptist Church. Allen married a woman named Josephine Leavell in 1877, she was a well-known piano and organ teacher; the couple produced two children. Allen moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky to preach and he also became a public speaker, he was appointed the Sunday School Missionary for the state of Kentucky, as well as, the Sunday School Superintendent. Allen Allensworth was accomplishing many things and he added to his resume by serving as the state of Kentucky’s only black delegate for the Republicans National Convention in 1880 and 1884. In 1886, Allen was appointed by the northern and southern politicians as the Chaplin for the U.S. Army, his appointment was confirmed by the Senate and the president of the United States of America. He was one of the few black Chaplins in the U.S. Army and was assigned as Chaplin for the Buffalo Soldiers and was able to serve as Chaplin as far west as the state of Montana. Allen authored two educational manuals Outline of Course of Study, and The Rules Governing Post Schools of Ft. Bayard, N.M., manuals that became a part of the regular curriculum for the U.S. Army. Allen retired from the U.S. Army in 1906 as the first black person to become a lieutenant colonel.
In 1908, Allen Allensworth realized his dream of creating an all-black self-sufficient black community when he established the city of Allensworth, California, in Tulare County. Allensworth, California was said to be Allen's "Tuskegee of the West", as he and Booker T. Washington were both admirers of each other. Allensworth grew from a small community to a successful city with homes, streets laid out, public buildings, a church, an orchestra, a voting precinct, the schools even became a part of the Tulare County school system. The city of Allensworth faced several difficulties working to remain a self-sufficient black-owned city, the Santa Fe Railroad which brought business to the city was moved to another city negatively impacting the economy of the city. On September 14th, 1914, Allen Allensworth was hit by a motorcycle and unfortunately killed. The site of the town of Allensworth, California was preserved by the state of California and the California African-American Museum. The Allen Allensworth State Historic Park was created to commemorate the only all-black city in California to be founded and financed entirely by black people, led by the vision of Allen Allensworth. To the man who began life as a slave, escaped slavery, became a pastor, educator, U.S. Army Chaplin, author, the first black lieutenant colonel for the U.S. Army, and established his own all-black city in California, Lieutenant Colonel Allen Allensworth, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
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John Edmonstone was a black man who used his knowledge to directly affect scientists who had a huge influence on the western world. Little is known about him as a man or his personal life, but we do have information about his professional life. Professionally, he was able to leave a legacy most former slaves wouldn’t imagine. A Scottish politician named Charles Edmonstone owned a plantation in Demerara, Guyana, the plantation that was said to be John Edmonstone’s place of birth. While living on the plantation, John Edmonstone befriended Charles Edmonstone’s son-in-law Charles Waterton. The two shared a love of nature; Carles Waterton was knowledgeable about the plants and animals of the rain forest. He used his knowledge to capture and expertly preserve the bodies of various birds. Because of the humid conditions of the rain forest, Charles Waterton quickly prepared and beautifully preserved the birds he captured. John Edmonstone was intrigued and spent as much time as he could learning about the Amazon Rain Forest and an expert form of taxidermy.
John Edmonstone received a first-hand education about the plants and animals of Guyana, he also gained an understanding of the science of biology that would help him later in life. Around the year 1817, Charles and John Edmonstone traveled to Scottland after the passing of the 1807 Slave Trade Act, an act that banned slavery throughout the United Kingdom. John Edmonstone was able to take advantage of the passing of The Slave Trade Act and gained his freedom. Shortly after becoming a free man, John moved to Edinburgh, Scotland finding a residence close to the University of Edinburgh at 37 Lothian Street. He began working at a local museum as a Taxidermist, he also began teaching the art of Taxidermy at the University of Edinburgh. John was a successful teacher and Taxidermist. He was known for preserving various animals from across the world. He preserved a fifteen foot-long Boa Constrictor that gained a lot of attention from his peers and students.
John Edmonstone is widely known within the world of biology and taxidermy as the mentor of Charles Darwin. Darwin began learning from John Edmonstone at the age of seventeen, he eventually hired John to teach him taxidermy paying him the equivalent of one hundred and sixty dollars a week. John had an enormous influence on Darwin, even influencing his professional decision to become a naturalist, geologist, and biologist. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the birth or the death of John Edmonstone, the majority of what we do know about him comes from Darwin’s memoirs. But from the information we have, we can see how brilliant and iconic John was. He was fortunate enough to be able to learn as a slave, he was able to earn his freedom via traveling to Scotland where slavery was abolished. He then used the information he learned about biology and taxidermy to earn a living as a University professor and Taxidermist at the local museum. Stories like these need to be told so we can see the continuous perseverance of our ancestors, as well as, how they were able to influence the industries that would shape the western world. Mr. John Edmonstone, we stand on your shoulders.
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On April 27, 1945, Frederick August Kettel, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to parents Frederick August Kettel, Sr. and Daisy Wilson. His father was a German immigrant who worked as a baker, his mother was a black woman from North Carolina who was a domestic worker. August was the fourth of six children who were raised mainly by their mother in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. In the late 1950s, Daisy Wilson remarried a man named David Bedford, the family then moved from the predominantly black Hill District to the predominantly white Hazelwood neighborhood. Being biracial in the Jim Crow era was difficult for August, he was often harassed in his neighborhood and at school because of his complexion, finding a space where he felt he belonged did prove to be difficult. 1959 was also August’s first year of high school. He was one of fourteen black children attending Central Catholic High School, unfortunately, he faced racist acts so often it drove him to drop out of school. He later enrolled in Connelley Vocational High School but again dropped out because he wasn’t learning anything. August had a thirst for knowledge but the educational institutions he attended were not adequate to intellectually stimulate him. He gave receiving a formal education one last try before dropping out again after he was accused of plagiarizing a paper he wrote about France’s Napoleon I. His teacher was not smart enough to realize she had a literary genius in her presence.
August Wilson was a sixteen-year-old who was determined to learn, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the streets of Pittsburgh became his classroom, while finding any job he could to make a living. Every opportunity he had to learn something new he took full advantage of it, consuming book after book, setting the stage for one of the greatest literary careers in history. In 1962, August enlisted into the US Army after a disagreement with his mother over his career choice, he made his mind up that he wanted to be a writer. After spending only one year in the Army he returned home to pursue his goal of becoming a writer. He once again worked menial labor jobs to provide for himself, he also changed his name from Frederick August Kittel, Jr., to August Wilson, using the last name Wilson to honor of his mother. August was able to buy a typewriter after earning enough money, which officially began his career as a writer. He immediately began writing material that would become the foundation of some of the greatest American literature. Influenced by the culture surrounding him, August wrote as if his life was on the line. He wrote everywhere he went. Bars, lounges, cafes, any place he could find a napkin to write on, he would write what was on his mind. He didn't mind using napkins to write on, he was dedicated to writing and capturing his thoughts as they came to him.
He started submitting his writings to Harper’s Magazine and other outlets because he wanted to expose the world to his work. Over time, he learned to become comfortable expressing his blackness and his love for his blackness through his writings. His life and writings were influenced by Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and other black leaders of the time. Black Power was a concept that was prevalent in August's mind. In 1968, The Black Horizon Theater was founded by Penny Hill, Curtiss Porter, Tony Fountain, E. Phillip McKain, and August Wilson. The Black Horizon Theater was a black nationalist theater company created to inspire black art, black creativity, and black political activism. In 1973, August's first play was titled Recycle, which was performed for fifty cents a ticket. In 1977, he wrote the plays Black Bart and the Sacred Hills, before moving to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1978. After arriving in St. Paul, he began writing educational scripts for the Science Museum of Minnesota, only to quit after receiving a fellowship for The Playwrights' Center. August was laser-focused on becoming an accomplished writer and nothing was going to stop him. He became associated with a black theater company in Minnesota by the name of the Penumbra Theatre Company of St. Paul, the theater company helped him produce and feature a number of his plays. August would go on the write the plays Fullerton Street, Jitney, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Fences, he also was awarded the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best American Play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the Whiting Award for Drama, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for his play Fences, and he was also named Artist of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, all of these accomplishments by the end of 1987. Later in 1987, the St. Paul Mayor named May 27th, August Wilson Day.
August moved to Seattle, Washington in 1990, which became the location for his “Century Cycle” or the “Pittsburgh Cycle”, his cycle of ten plays that were set in Pittsburgh, with the help of the Seattle Repertory Theater, the theater also helped to produce his one-man show titled How I Learned What I Learned. After 1987, August produced nine more plays; Fences, The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and Joe Turner's Come and Gone, are his most accomplished and popular plays. August earned 28 honors and awards for his phenomenal work, his ten-play cycle was legendary and placed him in rare air as a writer and creator. August Wilson died in 2005 due to liver cancer at the age of sixty. After his death, he was honored when the name of one of New York City’s theaters in the Broadway Theater District was renamed the August Wilson Theater. This is the story of a man who wrote his place into history. Frederick August Kettel, Jr., aka, August Wilson, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward.
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1762 was the birth year of a man who was the son of a slave that became one of the most prominent men in French military history. Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie was his birth name, he is the son of a white French nobleman named Alexandre-Antoine Davy, Marquis de la Pailleterie, and an enslaved black woman named Marie-Cessette Dumas; Marie-Cessette was the slave of Alexandre-Antoine. Alexander Dumas was born in Saint Dominique (Haiti) on the island of Hispaniola. At the age of fourteen, he traveled to France to join his father; Dumas was treated as a slave in his home town because he was of slave lineage, but in France, he was the son of an aristocrat and benefited from his father’s position. Alexandre Davy earned nobleman status when he became the Marquis de la Pailleterie, which was his family’s title. For the next ten years, Dumas matured into a fine young man who had no idea he would make history as a military hero. At the age of twenty-four Dumas joined the French Army, his father refused to allow him to use his family’s name because he was entering the army as a private, Alexandre-Antoine did not want to be associated with anything of low-class. Dumas then changed his name from Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie to Alexandre Dumas, honoring his mother’s last name.
Dumas joined the French Army in 1786 as a private, by 1792 he became a corporal in the Army and developed a reputation as a fierce soldier, swordsman, and leader during France’s battle against Austria and Prussia. Dumas' reputation as a great soldier was enhanced during the French Revolution. He became a member of a legendary all-black French unit named La Légion Américaine or the Black Legion, which was formed by Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint-Georges in 1792. Shortly after the Black Legion was formed Dumas was promoted from corporal to second in command of the legion as the Lieutenant Colonel. Information suggests that Chevalier de Saint-Georges grew disinterested in continuing as a leader in the French army and left the Black Legion under the leadership of Dumas. The Black Legion was highly successful under Dumas, they were so successful that Dumas was promoted to General of La Légion Américaine in 1793, making him the first black person to become a general in the French Army.
His rise from a private to a general was swift but well deserved, Dumas was a fighting machine with a bad temper, which was what the leaders of the French Army loved and hated about him. In 1793, as commander of the French Army located in the Alps, Dumas led the army to two vital victories capturing mountain passes. Despite his fame and success, he was ordered to defend himself legally against a Parisian Jacobian Club, coincidentally a coup d’etat occurred and he was free of those legal burdens. Around 1794, Dumas was beginning to have health problems and was granted leave time to recover. His recovery lasted two years. He returned to battle in the Alps in 1796 but was not given the command of the unit he was fighting with because he was demoted to second in command. Dumas was displeased with being demoted, he requested and was granted a transfer, he was sent to Italy to fight under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte. The relationship between Dumas and Bonaparte was a turbulent one, though Bonaparte respected Dumas’ resume Dumas didn’t hold the same level of respect for Bonaparte.
In 1798, Bonaparte led his unit into Egypt, but they were not very successful. In addition to the unit’s lack of success Dumas’ health was beginning to decline again. Frustration with losing battles, declining health, and a rapidly declining relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte, all led to Dumas leaving Egypt in 1799. Unfortunately, Dumas found himself in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy, he was rescued but he became a prisoner of war for two years. In 1791, he was released from prison, but his health was also still in decline, so he decided to settle in the city of Villier-Cotterêts with his family. In 1802, he and his wife birthed a boy who would become a literary titan, Alexandre Dumas. Dumas died in 1806 at the age of forty-four having accomplished so much in such a short time that his life became a story. His son Alexander Dumas became the legendary author of popular books such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, which we later learned were based on the life of his father. Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, aka Alexandre Dumas, we stand on your shoulders.
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On January 6, 1923, Leah Lange was born in Madisonville, Louisiana, which is a small town in the St. Tammany Parish, to parents Charles and Hortensia Lange. Charles Lange worked as a ship caulker and Hortensia was a homemaker and seamstress, the couple produced thirteen children and Leah was the second oldest of the thirteen. The Lange family came from humble beginnings in a town that was segregated and Jim Crow laws existed, despite being affected by the Great Depression and having to survive by farming, education was highly valued in the Lange household. The Lange family was Roman Catholic and their children attended Catholic schools in Madisonville until high school when Leah moved to New Orleans to continue her education at St. Mary's Academy, an African American Roman Catholic high school. Leah developed a love for cooking as a young girl spending time in her family’s kitchen.
At the age of sixteen, she graduated high school and began working as a domestic worker and at a sewing factory before quitting those jobs to work at a restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter called The Coffee Pot, waiting tables. Leah working at The Coffee Pot waiting tables was seen as taboo because she was Creole, but it was also taboo for an African American to work in the French Quarter at the time. According to a New York Times article about Leah Chase, her working at The Coffee Pot was the first time she was in a restaurant. She went on to work at the Colony Restaurant, an upscale restaurant, as a waitress. Her time at The Coffee Pot and the Colony Restaurant helped to further develop her love for cooking and the foundation of her historic future.
In 1945, Leah Lange met a man named Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. at a dance, the two would hit it off and eventually marry a few months later. Edgar Chase Jr. was a well-known trumpet player and bandleader from New Orleans' Treme neighborhood. Leah traveled with Edgar Jr. and his band for the first years of their marriage until the birth of their first child because they decided to travel less to manage their growing family. Edgar Chase Sr. owned a small lottery-like stand that also sold po'boy sandwiches; by the time Edgar Jr. and Leah decided to travel less and manage their family, Edgar Sr. grew his stand into an upscale black-owned restaurant named Dooky Chase. In 1952, as Edgar Chase Sr. became ill, Leah and Edgar Jr. took control of the restaurant and helped it expand into one of America's beloved black-owned restaurants by blacks and whites during the Jim Crow era. Dooky Chase served as an upscale place black people could go to for great food and community gatherings. Black and white freedom fighters from across the country would gather at Dooky Chase, allowing Leah to meet and befriend a number of our most beloved black figures; the restaurant was even used as a meeting place for the NAACP. Dooky Chase became a place where black people from all walks of life descended upon when they were in New Orleans.
Dooky Chase is located in the historic Treme neighborhood of New Orleans on Orleans Ave, and because of the vision of Leah, the restaurant was able to grow and thrive but the neighborhood around the restaurant was not. She was advised to move her restaurant but refused because she valued her neighborhood. When Leah and Edgar Jr. first took over the restaurant Leah thought she would be a hostess but they needed a cook, so she migrated into the kitchen and brought in foods that were considered classic Creole dishes and traditional New Orleans dishes, a move that proved to be successful. She didn’t want to serve foods that were considered extravagant, she wanted to serve foods that people loved or could grow to love. During and after segregation, Dooky Chase rose to New Orleans restaurant prominence because of the quality of the food and dining experiences of her customers. Dooky Chase attracted people such as Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Ray Charles, and many more. Leah developed a love for art, especially African American art, and decided to redecorate the restaurant by covering the walls with exquisite African American art. Her love for art spawned into her serving on the board of the New Orleans Museum of Fine Arts. Her impressive resume also includes authoring two books, The Dooky Chase Cookbook and And Still I Cook.
Her perseverance was put on display when Dooky Chase was flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, her grandson placed her art collection in storage to preserve it. A benefit was held by the Treme community for the restaurant where over forty thousand dollars were raised which helped to reopen the doors of Dooky Chase. Leah Chase used food to inspire the world from her restaurant in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. She was able to travel and meet a number of the most powerful people in the world. There is even a story of her correcting President Barak Obama before he added hot sauce to her world-famous gumbo. Throughout her life, Leah earned many awards which include the New Orleans Times-Picayune 1997 Loving Cup Award, the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women, a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2000, the Francis Anthony Drexel Medal, which is the highest award presented to an individual by Xavier University of Louisiana, plus many more. A gallery was dedicated to her by the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received at least six honorary degrees from various universities before her death in 2019. A woman from a small town in Louisiana developed a love for food and art which helped to uplift and promote Creole New Orleans food and culture around the country and around the world. She is known for her personality, art, gumbo, world-famous fried chicken, and using her restaurant to help make the world a better place. Mrs. Leah Chase, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On July 27, 1979, Marielle Francisco da Silva was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to parents Marielle and Antonio, who raised their family in an area called Mare’ that’s considered a slum. As a young girl around the age of eleven Franco began working to earn money to help her family financially. At the age of nineteen she gave birth to her daughter Luyara but the relationship with her daughter’s father did not last. To support herself, she worked as a pre-school teacher while beginning her pre-university studies so she could further her education at a major university. In 2002, Franco earned a scholarship and attended the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, earning her bachelor’s degree in social sciences. Her next step was attending Fluminense Federal University and earning her master’s degree in public administration. The title of her master’s thesis was “UPP: The Decline of the Favela in Three Letters,” a thesis that examined the impact the police were having on the Favelas they patrolled; UPP means “Pacifying Police Units”, an initiative Brazilian law enforcement instituted in to attempt to retake the Favelas from the gangs.
Between 2005 and 2007, Franco began working with the socialist party state representative named Marcelo Freixo. Franco, Frexio, and a number of others created the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights and Citizenship. Franco was motivated by the death of a friend killed by a stray bullet during a shootout between the police and drug dealers. Her motivation also led her to join the Brazil Foundation and the Maré Center for Solidarity Studies and Action. She was not only working to change the conditions in Brazil because of the death of her friend but change the overall conditions for black people and other oppressed people in Brazil. During Brazil’s municipal elections of 2016, Franco was a candidate running for a city council seat. She was viewed as having a long shot to win because she was a black woman from the Favelas who was an unmarried nineteen-year-old mother and was open about being a lesbian. But despite the negative perceptions and the odds, Franco earned the fifth-highest vote total with over 46,500 votes to become one of fifty-one of Rio de Janeiro’s city council members.
As a city council member she used her position to help create change in Brazil by fighting for black rights, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, the rights of Brazil’s poor, and many more. She was a force to be reckoned with. Franco served as the chairperson of the Women's Defense Commission and also positioned herself as the overseer of Rio de Janeiro’s federal interventions into their local dealings. She pushed hard to destigmatize LGBTQ+ relations and even worked to create a bill that would approve of a day of lesbian visibility; the bill was eventually voted down. Franco consistently spoke out against the oppression the people of Brazil were experiencing, she was especially vocal against the consistent police violence. March 13, 2018, was the last time she was able to use her voice via social media to speak out against police violence. "Young Black Women Moving Power Structures" was the round table discussion Franco attended on March 14, 2018. Two hours after leaving the round table Franco and her driver were ambushed by two men shooting nine times killing them both. According to an investigation it was concluded that Franco was assassinated by the Brazilian Federal Police.
Two former military police offers were arrested for the murder of Franco in 2019, with ties to the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, his neighbor, and his son. Protests of over one hundred thousand people were held all over the world in the name of Marielle Franco by those who supported her activism. Organizations such as the UN of Brazil and many others fought to have Franco's death investigated so justice can be served. Franco fought hard for the rights of others, now she needed her people to fight for her. Marielle Franco was a true soldier in the war against oppression who was unfortunately murdered by people who feared her power and feared change. Franco’s last words to the world via social media were “how many others will have to die for this war to end?” To the courageous Marielle Franco, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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In a village named St. Marc on the island of Saint Dominique, which is now Haiti, Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable was born around the year 1745. DuSable’s mother was an African woman who was formally enslaved and his father was a French sailor; because Dusable’s mother was free at the time of his birth he was born free of enslavement. DuSable would eventually travel throughout the world with his father being educated and even spending a few years learning in France. Gaining his traveling education DuSable learned to speak several languages and dialects including French, English, Spanish, Pidgin languages, and several Indigenous American dialects. Sources suggest that DuSable began traveling with his father because his mother was killed when their boat was raided by the Spanish. In 1765, traveling on his father’s ship from Saint Dominique to New Orleans the ship crashed injuring Du able and causing him to lose his identification papers. DuSable’s injuries were severe and took some time to heal, during his recovery he was almost enslaved because he did not have his identification papers, what saved him was several French Jesuit Priest protected him until his wounds healed.
When DuSable’s injuries healed he and a young man named Jean-Baptiste became traders which led them to travel up the Mississippi River settling in what is now Peoria, Illinois, he also settled briefly in Indiana and Michigan. While living in Michigan DuSable married a woman named Kitihawa from the Pottawatomie tribe, the couple produced two children Susanne and Jean. In 1779, DuSable was accused of being a spy, arrested by the British, and imprisoned in Fort Michilimackinac for some time until he was released into the custody of the British Lieutenant Patrick St. Clair. DuSable was forced to manage St. Clair’s woodlands which resided along the St. Clair River in Michigan. Between the late 1770s and the early 1780s, DuSable and his family settled in North East Illinois along Lake Michigan in an area then called Eschikagu, which means “the place of bad smells”. DuSable’s home was built upon eight-hundred acres of land along the North bank of the Chicago River.
Using his creativity and resources DuSable established a trading post in Eschikagu which eventually became the most successful trading post in the mid-west. The trading post made DuSable a wealthy man who was able to support his family and buy the finest of items for his home. The name Eschikagu eventually became primarily pronounced as Chicago because of Europeans who could not pronounce Eschikagu correctly. The ongoing American Revolution forced Du Sable and his family off of their lands and stripped them of their rights by the British, he migrated to Michigan where he opened and operated a new trading post. After the conclusion of the American Revolution DuSable was able to reclaim the rights to his land in Chicago and continued to grow his businesses. When DuSable married Kitihawa he was also accepted by the Pottawatomie tribe as one of their own, his great relationship with his wife’s tribe allowed him to hire a few Pottawatomie tribesmen to work for him helping to expand his business. Even though his trading post was thriving, DuSable decided to sell it in the year 1800 to a fellow resident of Chicago named John Kinzie for $1,200.
After selling his trading post in Chicago DuSable moved near the Peoria, Illinois area, he owned a farm for ten years, selling it when his wife died. Following the death of his wife DuSable and his daughter moved to St. Charles, Missouri, which was French territory at the time, he was hired by the French governor to operate a ferry on the Missouri River. DuSable faced many financial challenges after moving to Missouri, he could not recreate the wealth he built working his trading post in Chicago. He would lose a lot of money and die in 1818 being finically assisted by his daughter. John Kinzie would eventually take credit for establishing Chicago, a story that would be thought of a fact until the truth about DuSable surfaced. The city of Chicago unofficially recognized DuSable as its founder in 1912, it wasn’t until 2006 that the city of Chicago officially recognized that a black man named Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable established their city. A lot of the information about DuSable is either hidden or lost, but we do have enough information to verify his pioneering feats, the second-largest city in America, and the largest trading post in the mid-west was created by a black man, let that sink in. I had the privilege of traveling to Chicago and seeing the monument of DuSable for myself, one of the highlights of my trip. To Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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The South Pacific Islands are areas that are often forgotten when discussing the African diaspora, when we do discuss the South Pacific we mostly talk about the continent of Australia, the Hawaiian Islands, Fiji, and New Zealand. These areas are mostly known as vacation locations for those seeking a tropical adventure; unbeknownst to many people, these areas have become home to members of the African diaspora for tens of thousands of years. The South Pacific has three major groups of islands Polynesia, Micronesia, and our focus Melanesia. The name Melanesia is Greek in origin and it means “black islands” because the indigenous inhabitants of the islands are black people; the French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville gave the name Melanesia to the islands. The name Melanesian is not the most accurate term used to describe the people and the cultures of the islands, but I will use the term only because of familiarity. Melanesia is made up of 2,000 islands which house around twelve million people, islands that were first inhabited around 70,000 years ago. The Solomon Island, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, several archipelagos, countries, and smaller islands are what makeup what is considered Melanesia.
As people began migrating out of Africa populating the world, South Asia and the South Pacific became home to many people bringing their different cultures and ways of living. Two distinct cultural groups are credited with being the first inhabitants of the Melanesian Islands, the Papuans, and the Austronesians, the Papuans inhabited the islands first followed by the Austronesians 3,000 years ago. According to a genetic study by Temple University in 2008, the inhabitants of Melanesia have a very distinct genetic make-up that differs from the inhabitants of Micronesia and Polynesia. Not all, but a number of the people of Melanesia have a distinct look of black skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. This phenotype is due to a genetic mutation that as far as we know can only be found in Melanesian people. Due to European and Indonesian colonization some of the indigenous names and cultural practices of Melanesia were either replaced completely or the indigenous people infused their culture with European and Indonesian cultures. European colonization began in the 1500s with the arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese in the Maulku and Solomon Islands as well as Papua New Guinea. During the 1800s European colonization reached its apex as the practice of “blackbirding” became more and more popular. Blackbirding is the practice of enslaving the Melanesians and forcing them to work for their enslavers in Australia. Britain eventually became the main colonizers of Melanesia during the 1800s before they came under the colonization of Indonesia in the 1900s.
The people of Melanesia speak Austronesian and Papuan languages, the Austronesian languages originated from Southeast Asia, as opposed to the Papuan languages that originated in Papua New Guinea and New Guinea. Of the two main language groups mentioned previously they consist of close to 1,319 sub-languages that include a Melanesian creole and pidgin languages, French and English are also languages spoken by the people. Melanesia is rich in natural resources yet the economy and the people are poor. Like the African continent, Melanesia is constantly mined and robbed of its natural resources by colonizers as the people are subjugated and used to work the mines. Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam have largely replaced the indigenous spiritual practices of Melanesia. Family structures are both matrilineal and paternal; both monogamy and polygyny are practiced by the Melanesians, who place a large emphasis on family structures. Extended families are welcomed and treated as the nuclear family with reverence for their elders and ancestors. I first became aware of the Melanesian Islands as a middle school student but didn’t learn much about the people or their cultures, like me millions of other people either have little knowledge of or no knowledge at all of the people of Melanesia. African people have given the world so much but are greatly oppressed and enslaved around the world. One of the missions of On the Shoulders of Giants is to not only bring attention to African people that exist around the world but expose the plight we experience. To the millions of Melanesian ancestors and Melanesian people who exist today, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Located at the bottom of the Montes de Maria Mountain in the Bolivar Department of the country of Columbia, near the city of Cartagena, sits a historical African settlement that still stands to this day. San Basilio de Palenque was established in the early 1600s by several slaves who escaped and built a walled settlement to live free from Spanish oppression. The word Palenque translates to “walled city”. A Spanish slave ship traveling the Magdalena River in Columbia wrecked allowing the slaves aboard to escape, one of the slaves who escaped was the legendary Benkos Biohó, Bioho was a West African of royal descent. Bioho and his comrades escaped into the Columbian mountains before settling on the location and establishing what is now San Basilio de Palenque around 1603. The freed Africans who established the Palenque were known to frequently raid the slave plantations of Cartagena freeing a large number of slaves. Cartagena at the time was used as a main slave-trading location in Columbia. The Palenque was well hidden which allowed it to not be found by the Spanish surviving for over two-hundred years.
The inhabitants of San Basilio de Palenque are referred to as Palenqueros, their isolation over the centuries has allowed them to preserve their African culture while infusing it with Spanish culture. The Palenqueros speak a form of creole called Palenquero, a language this is widely believed to be the only Spanish based creole language spoken in the world. Around 3,500 Palenqueros exist today. Between 1691 and 1713, San Basilio de Palenque was issued a Royal Decree by the Spanish declaring their freedom as long as they stopped freeing slaves from the plantations of Cartagena. The women of Palenque are known as the Palenqueras, these women dress is beautiful bright colored dresses with turban wrapped heads. The women are masterful saleswomen who are famous for their look and their delicious food. The food of the Palenqueras is widely known and desired across the world, Palenquera recipes were awarded the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2014, and Palenquera recipes have been included in over 15,000 cookbooks throughout the years.
African culture influenced by Spanish, Caribbean, and South American cultures is what makes up the culture of San Basilio de Palenque, a settlement that is documented as the first free African settlement in the Americas. Their music, food, fashion, language, dances, and ways of thinking are based in their ancestral heritage, a heritage that was untouched by the Spanish for over two-hundred years. The Palenquero people were able to establish a way of living that was unique to them as well as empowering to them. From the time of the legend Benkos Bioho to the present day, San Basilio de Palenque stands as a symbol of African resistance against the Spanish, African pride, African strength, and African freedom. To Benkos Bhiho and the many heroes who established the Palenque and the inhabitants of San Basilio de Palenque over the centuries, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
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Before the founding of the Asante Empire, the Asante was a part of an Akan ethnic group that eventually became divided over time. What caused the division is debated, but whatever the truth is, it helped to lead to the unification of the Asante Empire. Migrations of the early Asante people led them settling along the coast of modern-day Ghana, the location they chose was rich in gold, kola nuts, and other natural resources; it was also a prosperous trade route. The Asante had not yet become a powerhouse, the Denkyira were the dominant Asante state; the Asante king at the time Obiri Yeboa had plans to become the dominant Asante state and eventually unify the Asante states. Obiri Yeoba was the Asante King from sixteen-sixty until sixteen-eighty. Little did Obiri Yeboa know his nephew Osei Tutu would bring his dream to life.
Osei Tutu became the King of the Asante in sixteen-eighty, succeeding his uncle Obiri Yeboa, Tutu along with his priest Okomfo Anokye prepared to carry out their plans to unify the Asante. As stated previously, the Denkyira was the dominate Asante group and the main adversary for Tutu to conquer. Before Tutu made his move against the Denkyira, he united the other Asante clans he was named the Asantehene or King of the Asante, and united the remaining Asante clans under the Asantehene. Tutu also became the first Asantehene to have the Golden Stool. It is said that during a meeting between Tutu and the other Asante chiefs, Tutu's priest Okomfo Anokye summoned a golden stool from the heaven that landed in Osei Tutu’s lap. The Asante chiefs pledged their allegiance to the Asante, the golden stool, and Osei Tutu. The next step for Tutu was to defeat the Denkyira and unite the Asante kingdom.
Okomfo Anokye along with his magic helped to decide the location of the Asante capital. Okomfo Anokye planted two trees, one at Kumasi and one at Kumawu, Kumasi became the Asante capital because the tree planted there grew tall and strong, the tree at Kumawu died. The cities of Jenne and Timbuktu were very important to the trade routes flowing through the Asante occupied area of Ghana. Whoever controlled the Asante clans controlled the trade routes. When Kumasi became the capital of the Asante states Tutu gained the title of Kumasihene along with his title as Asantehene during the first Odwira Festival, which is an annual festival to celebrate the unification of the Asante states. Tutu along with Okomfo Anokye and other Asante leaders created a constitution and a confederacy to govern the unified Asante states, it was also expressed that Tutu held the power of Chief of the Asante and the Chief Priest.
Osei Tutu had one very critical mission; to achieve his goal defeating the Denkyira was a must. Tutu organized a strong military force to protect his unified Asante state, he also used his military to expand into the Asante Empire. Tutu eventually went to war against the Denkyira and defeated them, he also defeated other opposing states, the defeated Asante states along with the Denkyira became a part of the now unified Asante Empire. The empire was officially unified under Osei Tutu in the year 1701; under his leadership, the Asante Kingdom flourished, expanding economically, geographically, politically, and militarily. The Asante Empire became one of the most legendary empires in the history of the world. Tutu led the Asante Empire until his death in 1717 during a battle against the Akyem. The Asante Empire continued to flourish even after Tutu’s death, Opoku Ware succeeded Tutu and strengthened the unity if the Asante Empire by creating the Great Oath of the Asante. The empire continued its reign until it fell to the British invaders in the year 1900. To the great Asantehene Osei Kofi Tutu I, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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The origins of humanity and civilization can be traced back to the Nile Valley in Africa starting around Uganda and South Sudan flowing to Egypt. The African diaspora is the term used to describe the many African people who traveled out of Africa and populated the world. As far as we know, African people have inhabited every continent and left information about their cultures and ways of living across various lands. The Caucuses are no exception, Africans inhabit the Caucuses, and I will tell you about one group of African people called the Abkhazians who have lived in the caucuses for centuries. From my research, I have found a few stories that explain the origins of the Abkhazians, those stories are as follows.
The Abkhazians inhabit the sovereign state of Abkhazia located along the northeastern coast of the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia. According to accounts by the historian Herodotus, during the fifth century BC he traveled throughout the Caucuses and learned about a group of African people called the Colchians who lived in the area known then as Colchis. He described them as a Negro people with black skin and woolly hair who practiced circumcisions; Herodotus stated that the only people he knew that practiced circumcisions were Egyptians and Ethiopians. He also noticed that the Colchians practiced weaving patterns that originated in Egypt. Herodotus conducted research and concluded that the Colchians were Egyptians that were a part of the Army of the Pharaoh Sesostris after his campaign in southern Russia. An American journalist named John Gunther, centuries after Herodotus, also traveled to Colchis and learned that black people of African descent inhabit the lands, but was told that they existed in the region due to their ancestors being slaves of the Turkish. According to J. Malte-Brun, Colchis was a place that was constantly raided by slaveholders, Malte-Brun also concluded that it was unlikely that the Colchians were imported into the regions by the Turkish slaveholders.
The Abkhazians are descendants of the Colchians as documented by the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who sat with the elders of an Abkhazian village as the elders told Gorky about their heritage, and from those meetings, he concluded that the origins of the Abkhazians trace back through the Colchians from Egypt and Ethiopia. One hypothesis that exists about the origins of the Abkhazians is that they were Moors who were a part of the Roman Empire who often explored Eurasia. Another Theory Is that they are an indigenous European group called the Nigiri Latinis who inhabited European lands from Spain to Russia.
However, a number of European historians agree on the hypothesis that the Abkhazians who inhabit Abkhazia today were brought there as slaves by the Ottoman Empire, or by the Georgian ruling family of Abkhazia the Shervashidzes. One European story tells of an Ottoman shipwreck carrying slaves and the slaves who survived the shipwreck became the Abkhazians. The Narts Sagas which are a series of stories about the origins of the people of the North Caucuses states that African people from the Horn of Africa were “escorting” the Narts on their travels throughout the Caucuses. One of the last pieces of information that European historians use to prove their slave history theory of the Abkhazians is a letter by Ivan Isakov to a man named Khrushchev stating that Afro-Abkhazians escorted Illarion Vorontsov-Dashkov as he traveled into the region of Abkhazia. The issue with the European accounts about the Abkhazian origins is that none of the Abkhazian people or historians validates their stories. The verified stories of the Abkhazian origins are more aligned with the findings and conclusions of Herodotus and the European historians that agree with him. What we do know is that once again African people can be found around the globe inhabiting lands that are thought to not have any Africans present. To the Abkhazian people and the African diaspora, we stand on your shoulders.
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During the 14th century, the Kingdom of Mali was ruled by Mansa Abu Bakr II the ninth Mansa of Mali; at the time the Kingdom of Mali was one of if not the largest kingdoms on the African continent. Details about the life of Abu Bakr II are unknown except for accounts from the Arab historian Al-Umari. Al-Umari learned details about Abu Bakr’s life during a conversation with Abu Bakr’s successor Mansa Musa. The historian learned that Abu Bakr was interested in learning what was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and confident he could complete the mission.
According to Al-Umari’s account as told to him by Mansa Musa, Abu Bakr prepared 200 boats to sail across the Atlantic to learn about what existed on the other side on the ocean. The boats were stocked with gold, water, food, and enough essential items to last quite a few years. Abu Bakr instructed his Admiral to sail the Atlantic and to not return until he found the far side of the ocean, or unless they exhausted all of their resources. Several years passed before any of the boats from the voyage returned, only one boat returned, when questioned, the captain of the boat explained how many of the boats were lost in the ocean due to violently flowing currents. The captain explained how he narrowly escaped being drowned by a massive whirlpool and was able to sail home.
Upon hearing this news, Abu Bakr loaded three thousand ships, two thousand for his men and one thousand for supplies, then set sail to explore the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. Mansa Musa was placed in charge of the Kingdom of Mali until Abu Bakr returned, but he never returned, so to this day his death remains a mystery. According to African scholars and researchers, specifically researcher Gaoussou Diswara and historian Ivan Van Sertima, it is purposed that maybe Abu Bakr or other African explorers reached the Caribbean and the Central or South American continents. There are accounts of indigenous Americans stating that black people sailed to their islands with gold. According to accounts by Christopher Columbus and Bartolome de las Casas an abundance of West African spears, gold, and many other artifacts existed. Several white scholars who support the argument that Europeans reached the Americas first disagree that Africans sailed to the Americas. Remember that European historians have a history of rewriting history to make themselves seem superior, especially when it comes to their relations with African people. We will celebrate pioneering explorers like Abu Bakr and the many others who preceded him and followed him. To the great Malian ruler and explorer Mansa Abu Bakr II, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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In 1806, Norbert Rillieux was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to parents Vincent Rillieux and Constance Vivant. Vincent Rillieux was a successful inventor of the steam-operated cotton baller and a slave owner. Constance Vivant and Norbert Rillieux were both free from slavery. Norbert, a mixed race creole was allowed privileges other people of African descent were not. He received a prominent education from a private Catholic school in Louisiana before traveling to Paris to study at École Centrale Paris, a postgraduate-level institute of research and higher education in engineering and science. Norbert’s educational concentrations at École Centrale Paris included physics, mechanics, and engineering. He was interested in steam engines and actually became an expert on steam engines, he even published several papers explaining the functions of steam engines. In 1830, at the age of twenty-four, Norbert became an instructor of applied mechanics at École Centrale Paris. Later in 1830, Norbert published a paper about using steam technology to help improve sugar refinery. He also began working on his multiple effect evaporating system which is an invention that would truly change the world.
At that time, the process of making sugar from sugarcane was dangerous, unproductive and extremely expensive. The process of sugar making was actually called the "Sugar Train", “Spanish Train” or “Jamaican Train”. Large amounts of pressed sugar was poured into a huge cauldron, heated and monitored until the water evaporated. The remaining liquid was poured repeatedly into smaller pots during the thickening process of the liquid; the problem with the process was that sugar was constantly lost and or burned due to no control of the heat. The main problem with the process was the slaves that were forced to refine the sugar were often injured during the transportation of the scalding liquids. Norbert moved back to Louisiana with the intentions of working with his brother Edmund and his cousin Norbert Soulie as the head engineer of their coming Louisiana sugar refinery. Edmund and Norbert Soulie learned about Norbert’s work in using steam to improve sugar refinery and recruited him to join them. The refinery was never opened so they were not able to use Norbert’s intelligence and ingenuity to make their dream a reality.
In 1843, Norbert Rillieux patented his multiple-effect evaporating system which improved the sugar refining process and also eliminated the need for slaves to be used to transport scalding liquids. The multiple-effect evaporating system helped to reduce the boiling point, it utilized multiple pans that better controlled the heat, and it also prevented the sugar from being burned or unable to be used. More sugar was produced, less time was used, no workers were harmed, and the sugar producers made more money. 1843 is also the year that Norbert installed his evaporator at the sugar refinery on the Bellechasse Plantation owned by Judah Benjamin. Benjamin was pleased with Norbert’s invention and became his biggest supporter, he stated that Norbert’s sugar was outstanding, even equal to or better than the sugar refined in the North.
Norbert Rillieux became one of the most sought after engineers in the state of Louisiana, he was installing his multiple-effect evaporating system for a large number of sugar plantation owners and earning a large amount of money; however, he did not earn enough money or notoriety to erase racism. When plantation owners would invite Norbert to install his invention they would force him to either live with the slaves or give him his own quarters and have slaves serve him. Norbert was not used to the treatment and it bothered him, also during that time the freedom of blacks was suspended because of the coming Civil War. On one occasion, Norbert submitted an application for a patent that was denied because the workers at the patent office mistook him for a slave. Norbert eventually moved back to Paris, France because of the treatment he received and witnessed, and the decline in the sugar refining industry. Norbert died in 1894 in Paris. Before his death, he developed a passion for Egypt and was spotted studying hieroglyphics at the various pyramids in Egypt. Norbert Rillieux literally created the modern sugar refinery industry just by being passionate about steam engineering and using it to help improve the way sugar was produced. Mr. Norbert Rillieux, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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This is a story about women who ruled the Limpopo Province of South Africa, the only matrilineal monarchy in the world; I introduce to you the Modjadjis or Rain Queens of Balobedu. Two stories exist that tell the origins of the Rain Queens, the first is in the 16th century, the Chief of Monomotapa was told his daughter Dzugundini could gain rain making skills if he impregnated her. The second story is that Dzugundini was impregnated by her brother but was able to flee to the Sotho region of South Africa. Dzugundini eventually went on to found the Balobedu Kingdom of South Africa, which at the time had a male ruler. As warfare increased so did problems within the Balobedu Kingdom, the Mugudo or male ruler of Balobedu wanted to restore peace within his kingdom so he impregnated his daughter, the child was the first Modjadji or Rain Queen. The succession of Rain Queens are as follows; Rain Queen I was Maselekwane Modjadji who ruled from 1800 to 1854, Rain Queen II was Masalanabo I Modjadji who ruled from 1854 to 1894, Rain Queen III was Khesetoane Modjadji who ruled from 1895 to 1959, Rain Queen IV was Makoma Modjadji who ruled from 1959 to 1980, Rain Queen V was Mokope Modjadji who ruled from 1981 to 2001, Rain Queen VI was Makobo Modjadji who ruled from 2003 to 2005. From 2007 to 2018 Prince Regent Mpapada Modjadji led the Balobedu Kingdom.
During the reign of the second Rain Queen, the Balobedu Kingdom was overrun by the majority white South African military. Under the oppression of apartheid the power and influence of the Rain Queen was weakened. During the 1990s, after apartheid ended, the Rain Queens power and influence was restored. Currently, no Rain Queen sits upon the throne, but in 2023 Princess Masalanabo II will be crowned Rain Queen VII Modjadji Masalanabo on her eighteenth birthday. It was customary for the Rain Queen to never appear in public, she would communicate to her people through royal counselors. The Rain Queen does not marry but is allowed to have a romantic partner. To ensure the loyalty of the kingdom, the Rain Queen would take “wives” from the various nobles of the kingdom; the “wives” would become royal servants or even romantic partners for some of the men in the kingdom. The lure and the prominence of the Rain Queen was prominent throughout South Africa, even the mighty king Shaka Zulu respected the lure of the Rain Queen. To help reinforce the Rain Queens power, every November a rain making ceremony was held within the kingdom. It is said that the power of the Rain Queen keeps the cycad tree in abundance under a rain belt within the gardens that surround the royal compound.
Since the Rain Queen will only be a woman, when she does mate she would usually mate with a man chosen by her royal counsel. The eldest daughter of the Rain Queen is usually the successor to the throne, if the Rain Queen has no daughters or other circumstances prevent the Queens eldest daughter from ascending to the throne, the woman who is the closest in relation to the queen becomes the next Rain Queen. In the past it was custom for the Rain Queen to commit ritual suicide so her daughter can ascend to the throne, today they no longer continue that custom. The influence of the Rain Queen even spread to Western culture; Marvels character Storm of the X-Men was taken from the Rain Queen, the book She: A History of Adventure written by r H. Rider Haggard was inspired by the Rain Queens, specifically the second Rain Queen Masalanabo I Modjadji. There seems to be a continued misconception that women can’t rule, and specifically black women are not rulers of kingdoms. The Rain Queens are the latest example of women rulers I have presented to you; they are the first and only all-woman led monarchy in the world. To all six of the previous Rain Queens and to the upcoming seventh Rain Queen, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On March 20, 1915, Rosetta Nubin was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, to parents Willis Atkins and Kate Bell Nubin. Her father Willis was a cotton picker and singer, her mother Kate was a singer, mandolin player and, a COGIC preacher for her traveling ministry. Tharpe began singing and playing the guitar at the age of four and was considered a child prodigy by the age of six. The Tharpe family traveled throughout the South performing for various audiences until the family moved to Chicago, Illinois around 1925. The Tharpe family began performing at the fourth street COGIC church in Chicago and around the United States, igniting audiences with their skills and flair. Tharpe was gaining notoriety as a young talented singer and guitar player; she was one of the few black female guitarists making a name at the time. In 1934, Tharpe met and married a COGIC preacher named Thomas Thorpe, the couple lasted a few years before they divorced. Following her divorce, Tharpe’s stage named became Sister Rosetta Tharpe, she moved to New York with her mother and signed a record deal with Decca Records in 1938.
At the age of 23, Tharpe became Decca Records’ first gospel artist and recorded her first four songs, "Rock Me," "That's All," "My Man and I" and "The Lonesome Road". All of her songs became hits and Tharpe was becoming a household name as a gospel singer influencing established and up and coming artists. Tharpe’s song “Rock Me” is an early influence on what would become Rock and Roll music; Tharpe herself was inspired by jazz and blues which can be heard in her music. Because she infused what was considered secular music within the gospel music she made, many churchgoers were turned off by her music, while simultaneously gaining a large following of new fans. As Tharpe’s popularity grew so did her opportunities. She began performing with musical legends such as Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman and performed at the Cotton Club in Harlem and Carnegie Hall. Her performances and collaborations helped to bring black southern gospel music to the mainstream; she also helped to set the foundation for Rock and Roll music to be created.
As Tharpe’s popularity grew so did the sexism she faced as a woman playing the guitar. The more music she made the more Christians became upset with her for infusing secular music with the gospel. During World War II Tharpe was one of two gospel performers to record songs on V-Disc for black American troops abroad. In 1944, Tharpe and pianist Sammy Price recorded the song “Strange Things Happening Every Day”. The song became a hit and the first gospel song to appear in the top ten of Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade Magazine. “Strange Things Happening Every Day” is often considered the very first Rock and Roll record to be recorded. Tharpe’s light continued to shine as she toured the United States exposing more and more people to her unique style of gospel music. In 1946, Tharpe was in New York attending a Mahalia Jackson concert when she discovered a young singer by the name of Marie Knight. Tharpe invited Knight to tour the country with her and record the songs "Up Above My Head" and "Gospel Train". As time passed Tharpe and Knight’s relationship took a toll after Knight lost her children and mother in a fire, Knight desired to become a solo artist and, rumors were spread that Tharpe and Knight had a romantic relationship.
Tharpe married her manager Russell Morrison in 1951 and performed at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. In 1956, she recorded the gospel album Gospel Train with a black gospel quartet named The Harmonizing Four. In 1957, she was touring the UK for a month with Chris Barber a British trombonist. In 1964, Tharpe returned to the UK for a gospel and blues tour with Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Ransom Knowling, Little Willie Smith, Reverend Gary Davis, Cousin Joe, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. Tharpe battled diabetes complications which caused her to have a stroke in 1970, following her stroke one of her legs were amputated. In 1973, Rosetta Tharpe died the day before she was scheduled to record new music. Unknowingly, Tharpe helped to create a new genre of music and inspired generations of future artists. Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Isaac Hayes, Meat Loaf, Neil Sedaka, Karen Carpenter and, Frank Turner are all musicians who have expressed Tharpe’s influence on their music. Tharpe was commemorated on a US postal stamp in 1998, posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2007, a four-hour BBC documentary about her life aired in 2011, the PBS series American Masters featured her in 2013, the play Marie and Rosetta was created about her time with Marie Knight and debuted in New York in 2016, and was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. She recorded fourteen albums and three of her singles appeared atop the Billboard charts between 1945 and 1949. To the legendary singer, guitarist and innovator Rosetta Tharpe, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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