In 1744, a Peruvian woman named Josefa Puyucahua Sisa gave birth to a baby girl named Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua, the father of the baby was a man named Manuel Bastidas. Details on Manuel’s life are not clear, some scholars believe he was an African man, other scholars believe he was a priest. Because of the uncertainty of Manuel’s life, Micaela is believed to be of mixed Indigenous Peruvian and African origins, but it is not confirmed. Micaela was born in the Pampamarca province of Canas, Peru. Within the Pampamarca province Micaela was considered a illegitimate child because of the possibility of her being mixed race, as a result, she was called a Zamba. She was often described as “a very beautiful Indian girl” who had very little education, she wasn’t very fluent in Spanish, her indigenous language which was Quechua. Because of Spanish occupation in Peru, Micaela, like other Peruvians had become devout Christians instead of continuing her indigenous spiritual system. At the age of 16, Micaela married a man named Jose Babriel Condorcanqui, who is better known as Tupac Amaru II, the legendary Peruvian freedom fighter.
Tupac Amaru II was a descendent of the great Tupac Amaru I, a monarch of the last Incan state and freedom fighter in Peru. Tupac Amaru II, like Micaela was of mixed race, and in 1764, he became the chief of the Peruvian territories that include the Pampamarca, Tungasuca, and Surimana districts. Tupac and Micaela’s marriage was positive and fruitful, the couple produced three sons and became a very prosperous family. As Tupac and Micaela’s wealth grew, Tupac noticed that his people were not prospering, in fact, they were experiencing poverty and oppression which led to revolts by the Peruvian people. Soon after, Tupac decided to join his people in revolt against the Spanish, Micaela was right by his side ready to fight. Micaela and Tupac had rebelled against the Spanish for a number of years before the year 1780, which was the year the rebellion of Tupac Amaru II began. Tupac and his rebels were able to overtake the Tungasuca region of Peru. During the overtaking of Tungasuca, Tupac, Micaela, and the rebels defeated the Spanish commander Antonio de Arriaga and then hung him.
To give themselves an advantage against the Peruvians, the possession of weapons was outlawed, so the Peruvians had to obtain weapons and other resources by raids of Spanish camps. Micaela was in charge of the supplies and logistics for the rebels. She mapped out routes to travel, made sure the rebels had food and supplies, managed and distributed money, obtained and distributed weapons, organized systems of communication, and even fought in battle. As Micaela, Tupac, and the rebels gained victories over the Spanish, they would free Peruvians that were being oppressed by the Spanish. Micaela and a woman named Aymara established a program to help Peruvian women who were traumatized by the Spanish reincorporate back into Peruvian society. The rebels gained an important victory over the Spanish in November of 1780, this victory was important because the rebels were joined by the Creole, mestizo, zambo, and Indian ethnic groups to fight the Spanish.
Micaela, Tupac, and the rebels would battle for another six months with a rebels army being seven thousand people strong. On May 18, 1781, Micaela suggested to Tupac that they launch a surprise attack against the Spanish, Tupac didn’t agree with her, unknown to Tupac, the Spanish gained reinforcements to their army. During the next battle between the Spanish and the rebel army, the Spanish outnumbered and out gunned the rebel army. Both Tupac and Micaela were captured by the Spanish. Micaela was hung by the Spanish on May 18, 1871. Tupac was beheaded and one of their son’s was also executed. Micaela was only 36 years old, but lived a life of resistance, fighting for her freedom against the Spanish. Meeting and Marrying Tupac Amaru II changed the course of Micaela’s life, but it also helped many Peruvian people oppressed by the Spanish gain their freedom. To Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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The Nyabinghi spiritual system became prominent in the Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania regions of Africa. Queen Nyabinghi was the ruler of the Karagwe Kingdom in modern-day Tanzania. Queen Nyabinghi was married to Ruhinda, Chief of the Mpororo Kingdom, which occupied the southwestern region of Uganda. Chief Ruhinda was greedy and took full control of the Karagwe Kingdom by killing Queen Nyabinghi. Following Queen Nyabinghi’s murder, it is said that her spirit terrorized Chief Ruhinda and everyone who participated in her murder. The spirit and the story of Queen Nyabinghi became a symbol of resistance to many African people in Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Queen Nyabinghi was also seen as a symbol of fertility, health, and abundance. The following of Nyabinghi became a spiritual system that some refer to as a cult. Followers of Nyabinghi grew over the years complete with initiations and cultural traditions being passed from generation to generation. Queen Muhumuza would become one of the most prominent followers of Nyabinghi and was even believed to be a reincarnation of Nyabhingi.
I am not sure about the exact date of the birth of Muhumuza, but according to sources she was born around 1870 in Rwanda and was given the name Muserekande at birth. She would eventually become one of the wives of King Rwabugiri of Rwanda until the death of the king in 1895. Rwabugiri was killed by his “favorite wife” Kanjora because she was conspiring with European colonizers to take control of the throne from his successor Rutarindwa, and place her son Musinga on the Rwandan throne. Muserekeande at the time was able to galvanize enough supporters to resist the overthrow of Kanjora until the Europeans came to Kanjora’s aide. With the help of the Europeans, Muserekeande and her son were forced into exile in Mpororo, Uganda, and Kanjora’s son, Musinga became the ruler of Uganda at 17 years old. While in exile Muserekeande changed her name to Muhumuza, which means “she who gives rest from tyranny”. During her time in exile, Muhumuza’s spirit of rebellion grew against the tyrannical Europeans and the Ugandans that were aligned with the Europeans. As her spirit of rebellion grew, she began to amass a following of people who believed in her. Muhumuza was eventually introduced to and adopted the Nyabhingi spiritual system, which helped her following and influence grow. Muhumuza was accompanied by the Abakiga people of Southern Uganda as they challenged the legitimacy of the rule of Kanjora. Muhumuza now seen as a threat to the throne, caused Kanjora to enlist the help of the Germans and other African kingdoms who joined forces with the Europeans. Anti-Colonial is what Muhumuza’s resistance was being labeled because she was now fighting against Africans and Europeans who wanted to control the Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania areas.
Muhumuza’s influence was tremendous at this point and she was viewed by many as the reincarnation of Queen Nyabhingi, she also became the ruler of the Mpororo state because of the following she amassed. Being that Muhumuza was seen as the reincarnation of Queen Nyabhingi, she was believed to have supernatural powers. She was carried around by six men on a platform, shoulder high when traveling. She predicted that if her followers found the sacred Karinga drum of Rwanda, her son would become the ruler of Rwanda. She also predicted that the bullets of the Europeans and their allies would turn to water when shot at her followers. Muhumuza and her followers harvested, collected, and stored massive amounts of produce and grains to sustain themselves. As Muhumuza’s following grew, they began to raid the African chiefs who aligned themselves with the Europeans. Because of these actions, she was characterized as hostile by the Europeans. As Muhumuza and her rebel's attacks on the chefs continued, the people within their states became refugees and an issue for the colonist. So Muhumuza needed to be stopped. In 1908, During a conflict between Muhumuza, her followers, and the Europeans, Muhumuza was captured and jailed. She was jailed for three years before escaping in 1911, returning to her people. Upon her return, Muhumuza found that the British and the Germans gained more power and influence during her absence, but she did not lose any of her rebellious spirit.
Still having her influence and the idea that she was the reincarnation of Nyabhingi, Queen Muhumuza was able to galvanize enough people to lead her second anti-colonialism rebellion against the British and Germans. Queen Muhumuza was becoming a thorn in the sides of the Europeans because she would not stop rebelling against their tyranny. The British and Germans eventually partnered to eliminate Muhumuza. The Europeans attacked Muhumuza and her rebels by surprise, led by Captain Reid, who commanded African and European soldiers. Muhumuza and her rebels were formidable opponents because a surprise attack turned into a six-hour battle. Muhumuza and her rebels were eventually defeated by the Europeans. Muhumuza was shot in the foot and captured, while 40 of her rebels were killed. She was jailed in Kampala, Uganda, in 1911, where she eventually died incarcerated. The death of Queen Muhumuza made her a martyr, the legend of Queen Nyabinghi even greater, and the Nyabinghi movement began gaining more followers. The Europeans were so fearful of the continued rise of the following of Nyabinghi that they enacted the “Colonial Witchcraft Ordinance of 1912,” to stop the further rebellions in the name of Nyabinghi. Because of her bravery, influence, skill, leadership, and spiritual nature, Munumuza became one of Africa’s most memorable Warrior Queens. She stood face-to-face with colonizers and Africans who supported the colonization, backed by her people and her African spirituality, to fight for the freedom of her people. To Queen Muhumuza, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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In June of 1789, Josiah Henson was born into slavery on a plantation in Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland. Henson’s father was enslaved by a man named Francis Newman. Dr. Josiah McPherson was the owner of Henson, his siblings, and his mother. One of Henson’s earliest memories was witnessing his father being given 100 lashings by his owner for fighting off an overseer attempting to sexually assault his wife. In addition to the 100 lashings, his ear was nailed to a post and then cut off. Henson’s father was later sold away to a plantation in Alabama, never seeing his family again. Henson, his siblings, and his mother experienced harsh treatment from the overseers on the McPherson plantation. McPherson routinely and violently abused Henson himself. He suffered broken bones in his arms and back and was often badly bruised. Henson received this type of treatment until the day McPherson died. Soon after McPherson’s death, Henson and his family were sold on an auction block. Henson’s brothers and sisters were sold away, followed by his mother who was purchased by a man named Issac Riley living on a plantation in Montgomery County, Maryland. Henson’s mother pleaded with Issac Riley to purchase her son. Riley responded by punching and kicking Henson’s mother. Josiah Henson was purchased by a man named Adam Robb in Montgomery County, Maryland. Henson became very sick soon after being purchased by Adam Robb, so sick that it was believed he would die. Henson’s mother pleaded with Issac Riley to purchase her son so she could be with him if they believed he would die. Riley and Robb came to an agreement of Riley taking Henson for free so he could die with his mother.
Despite what many believed, Henson survived his illness and fully recovered. He recovered so well that he became one of the best and most trusted workers on the Riley plantation. He became a plantation manager and was even trusted to sell produce from the plantation at nearby markets. Henson and his family did receive harsh treatment on the Newman plantation. On one hand, Henson was trusted by his owner, but on the other, he was also beaten and treated less than human. He was beaten for attempting to learn to read, but he also was able to mix and mingle with various types of businessmen and preachers while selling produce for his owner. Henson was being punished for learning to read and write, but he was receiving a hands-on education in the school of life. A white minister who owned a farm helped Henson somewhat learn to read and preach. Henson would use the reading skills he gained to help himself memorize Bible verses. The minister took a liking to Henson, and in addition to helping him learn to read, the minister collected $350 from other ministers and gave it to Henson to buy his freedom. During the time of Henson learning to read and being given $350 towards his freedom, the Riley plantation was going broke and needed money. In 1825, Riley told Henson to travel to Kentucky and sell 18 slaves to his cousin, but it was a plot to cheat Henson out of his $350 and sell Henson to one of Riley’s cousins in New Orleans. Amos was the name of Issac Riley’s cousin who was tasked with selling Henson, Amos became sick with malaria before he could sell Henson. At the time Henson and Amos were traveling between the Riley plantations when Amos contracted Malaria. Henson made a humaine decision to not leave Amos to die but to load Amos onto a steamship sailing North towards Maryland. Henson remained on a Riley plantation in Kentucky for five years.
1830, was the year Josiah Henson and his family escaped the Riley plantation for good. They traveled at night and slept during the day, making the 600-mile journey to Canada from Kentucky. The 600-mile trip to freedom was grueling. Henson and his family were severely exhausted. They needed food and water. At one point Henson’s wife fainted from exhaustion. They received food and water from a Native American tribe. The Henson family also received help across Lake Ohio, and help from a man named Captain Burnham to sail from Buffalo, New York into Upper Canada. In October of 1830, Josiah Henson and his family became free of enslavement and able to live as full human beings. Living in Upper Canada as a free man, Henson was determined to use his freedom to help as many people gain their freedom as he could. He toured Britain as a speaker against slavery. He used the tour to gain supporters for the abolishment of slavery, but he was also raising funds to purchase land in Canada to create a free black settlement. With funds gained from the speaking tour and support from abolitionists in the U.S. and Brittian, Henson was able to purchase The Dawn Settlement, in the Dawn Township Kent County, Ontario, Canada. The Dawn Settlement sat on 200 acres of land. The people of the Dawn Settlement sold lumber, produce, and other goods to sustain themselves. Henson was able to buy an additional 200 acres next to the Dawn Settlement to build a home for his family. The Dawn Settlement contained a desegrated school, a sawmill, and a mason shop. At the apex of the Dawn Settlement, the population reached over 500 people.
Using the skills he learned while enslaved, Henson became a methodist preacher and continued speaking out against slavery. Henson served in the Canadian army during the 1837 Canadian Rebellion, becoming the leader of an all-black militia. He led the militia to capture a rebel ship and helped to cut off supplies to Canadian rebels in Upper Canada. As Henson aged, he and his family remained in the Dawn Settlement, and a number of black people returned to the United States after slavery was abolished. During Henson’s life, he faced a lot of violence and trauma, but he also took freedom into his own hands, leading him to help others become free. Henson published his autobiography in 1849 titled, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Henson’s life and autobiography were very influential, so influential that Henson became the person that the character Uncle Tom was based on in the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in 1852. Henson released an expanded version of his autobiography following the release of Uncle Tom’s Cabin titled, Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Father Henson's Story of His Own Life. In 1876, Henson released an updated version of his autobiography Uncle Tom's Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson. Josiah Henson died in May of 1883 in Dresden, Ontario, Canada, leaving behind a legacy of servitude, leadership, overcoming trauma, and freedom. To Rev. Josiah Henson, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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By the 8th Century AD, Islam spread throughout North and West Africa, becoming a major cultural and religious influence. African countries such as Nigeria, Libya, Cameroon, and Chad are countries that Islam influenced, but the areas they occupy will be our focus for today. The Kanem-Bornu Empire was founded in the 7th century and was located in present-day Nigeria, Chad, Libya, and Cameroon but the empire reached its apex under the rule of Mai Idris Alooma. Idris Alooma was born around 1538 AD in the Sayfawa Dynasty of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, the Sayfawa dynasty ruled the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the year 1564, Alooma became the Mai or King of the Sayfawa Dynasty and Emperor of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, and he was only 26 years old. One of the first moves Alooma made as Mai was to make the city of Gambaru his capital city instead of the traditional capital city of Ngazargamu, a city that was chosen for its fertile lands. Gambaru was a walled city that was built with red bricks; the architecture built during Alooma’s reign was distinct because of the red bricks he used. Warfare and the expansion of empires were not uncommon on the African continent. Alooma was known for his diplomacy, intelligence, leadership, and military success. He faced and conquered the Hausa, Tuareg, Toubou, Bulala, and the Sao to expand the Kanem-Bornu Empire.
Militarily, Alooma was very innovative and levelheaded. He was known for his military tactics and domination of his opponents. He set up walled military camps to give his army protection from enemies while placing enemy armies under siege cutting off resources and communication, utilized armor for his soldiers and the horses and camels they rode, and employed Berber; Ottoman; and Egyptian mercenaries within his army. His army and empire were mighty and intimidated its enemies. After victories over their opponents, they would use the scorched earth tactic, burning everything on the lands they conquered. Though Alooma and his army were highly successful, Alooma’s diplomacy and understanding of warfare allowed him to expand his empire through physical conflict and using treaties; it is said he wrote the first ceasefire treaty in the history of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. Politically, Alooma understood his strengths and weaknesses, so he created a council of the kings of the most important clans of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. He often engaged in conversation with highly educated administrative members of his empire. Using his wise counsel, he leads a major administrative reformation of his empire based on his interpretation of Islamic law. A number of Mosques were built throughout the empire, a pilgrimage to Mecca was required, and he also built a hostel in Mecca for those taking their pilgrimage.
Alooma made the Kanem-Bornu Empire strong and wealthy. He understood what his people needed, he made trading and traveling safe, so safe, that he is quoted saying, a woman covered in all gold could walk the trade routes and not be harmed. The expansion of the trade routes from North Africa and the Sahara, coming into West Africa was revitalized. Precious and natural resources such as salt, silk, copper, kola nuts, cotton, and natron were traded. Humans were even traded for slave labor. To improve trade coming into the Kanem-Bornu Empire, Alooma improved upon the conditions of the empire. He cleared and upgraded roads, and used standard units to measure grain increasing agriculture production. After the fall of the Songhai Empire in 1591, the Kanem-Bornu Empire became the Kanem-Bornu Caliphate, and Mai Alooma became the most powerful and influential Islamic ruler in Africa. In 1596, Mai Alooma was engaged in a battle against the Baguirmi Kingdom, he was mortality wounded and died on the battlefield. His body was buried at Lake Alo where he was posthumously given the name Idris Alooma. He is the best-known and most successful ruler of the Kanem-Bornu Empire and one of the main reasons the empire is remembered today. Engaging in over 1,000 battles and gaining over 300 victories. Mai Idris Alooma, we stand on your shoulders.
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In my opinion, black people are amazing, we can do anything we put our minds to. Our people always rise to the top of the industry or field we chose. This amazing black woman, nicknamed “The Bug Lady” fits the description, becoming a legend in zoology and entomology. On September 4, 1922, Margaret James was born in Institute, West Virginia, the fourth of five children belonging to Rollins and Luella James. Education was a priority in the James household. Rollins James earned a bachelor's degree from West Virginia State University and a master's degree from Tuskegee Institute. He worked in agriculture as a county agent for the USDA, taught vocational agriculture, and directed the poultry program for West Virginia State University. He was also a teacher at West Virginia State Laboratory High School. Luella James’s academic and professional passion was archeology, but West Virginia State did not have the resources for her to fully pursue an education in the field. She eventually dropped out of college and maintained the James household. This environment nurtured one of the most curious and brilliant black minds. As a child, Margaret was fond of playing outside in the woods and collecting all types of bugs, she was also labeled a child prodigy at the age of six.
Being labeled a child prodigy allowed Margaret to have access to the West Virginia State University Library. The combination of exploring in the woods, collecting bugs and animals, and being able to read as much as she wanted in the West Virginia State Library, gave her the greatest joy as she began fulfilling her purpose. Margaret was a brilliant young lady. She could identify all types of animals and insects, and she was well versed in her academic studies. She was so brilliant that she was able to skip ahead two grades, allowing her to graduate high school at the age of fourteen. She earned a scholarship to attend West Virginia State University, her father’s alma mater. Due to Margaret being only a teenager starting college, she encountered some rough times learning to socialize with older college students and finding a mentor. As time passed and she began to settle into college, she found two mentors who helped her fully adjust to college. Soon after, her brilliance was on full display. In 1943, she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in German and Physics. In 1950, she earned a Ph.D. in Zoology/Entomology from the University of Chicago, becoming the third black woman to earn a Ph.D. in zoology, and the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in entomology. Her Thesis “Differences in Toleration of Drying among Species of Termites,” was published in 1950, and is said to be one of the most influential and cited zoology/entomology theses ever published. She also used the information in her thesis to publish an article for the scientific journal, Ecology, the journal of the Ecological Society of America.
Margaret was highly influenced by her monitor, a legendary termite expert, Professor Alfred E. Emerson. They met when Dr. Margaret Jones was a freshman and developed a relationship that produced some of the greatest entomological findings. Dr. Jones became a professor at Howard University where she would earn tenure, she also met and married her first husband Bernard Strickland at Howard University. The two were married for a while before divorcing. After the divorce, Dr. Margaret Jones Strickland moved to Tallahassee, FL, and became a professor and chair of the biology department at Florida A&M University. Dr. Strickland was known for taking trips to the various national parks in Florida to conduct research and collect insects. Her brilliance was too much to hide, she was invited to speak at a lecture at Florida State University, but the event was canceled due to a bomb threat. During her time at Florida A&M University, Dr. Strickland earned tenure, and similar to her time at Howard University, she met and married a man named Herbert L. Collins. The couple produced two sons. While living in Tallahassee, FL, Dr. Margaret James Strickland Collins became involved in the local bus boycott and civil rights movement. She became a target of the FBI because she used her car to drive black men and women to work, and she used her platform and notoriety to fight racial injustice. Dr. Collins left Florida A&M University in 1961 after receiving a grant to study at the University of Minnesota for a year. She studied North American termites as a research associate at the Minnesota Agricultural Experimental Station. After her time researching in Minnesota, she once again became a professor at Howard University, also becoming a tenured professor at what is now known as The University of the District of Columbia. While living in Washington D.C., Dr. Collins became the president of the Entomological Society of Washington and a research associate for the Smithsonian Institute.
In 1968, Dr. Collins led a research expedition to Mexico sponsored by the Smithsonian and the graduate school of Howard University. In 1972, the United States IBP Desert Biome Project and the National Science Foundation-funded Dr. Collins’ research in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Later in 1972, Dr. Collins became a guest lecturer at Scripps College in Claremont, California. In the year 1979, Dr. Collins conducted field research in Guyana, masterminded a symposium for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, published a book titled Science and the Question of Human Equality, and conducted research on the defense mechanisms of termites. Over a thirty-plus years career, Dr. Collins conducted field research in North America, South America, and the Caribbean. She discovered a new species of termite in 1989, the Florida damp wood termite. She published more than 40 research papers and was considered the world's foremost authority on termites during her prime. Dr. Collins died on April 27, 1996, a scientific legend in the fields of zoology and entomology. She used her brilliance and curiosity to create a meaningful life and career for herself, she even made a place for herself in the pages of history. Dr. Margaret James Strickland Collins, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On July 2, 1947, Elizabeth Mary Furlong was born in Birmingham, England. Her mother was an Irish woman named Mary Maureen Furlong studying classics at Newman College of Cambridge University. Her father was a Nigerian diplomat named Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu studying law at the University of Cambridge. Elizabeth’s parents met while attending Cambridge. Mary’s family was a strict Irish Catholic family, because of their values and beliefs, it was difficult for Mary to tell her family she was pregnant by a Nigerian man and unmarried. Once Elizabeth was born, her grandparents took guardianship of her and attempted to present Elizabeth as their own, but her brown skin made it clear she was not their child. Her grandparents were caring for her initially so her mother Mary could continue school, and her father currently was not in the picture. Elizabeth was placed in a boarding school where she experienced harsh treatment by her classmates and the nuns caring for the children. Her skin color and hair made her an outcast among the children, she also had to bear with extreme eczema. The eczema was treated daily with coal and tar paste and wrapped with bandages. Elizabeth could remember being in extreme pain as the bandages were removed for treatment, some of her skin would be removed with the bandages.
Of all the nuns that cared for her skin, there was one nun she described as the “nun in white”, who was cautious about hurting Elizabeth as she applied and removed the bandages, in the process, she would tell Elizabeth jokes to distract her from the pain. This experience is what inspired Elizabeth to become a nurse. At the age of nine, Elizabeth’s mother withdrew her from the boarding school and brought Elizabeth to live in her home with her husband. As time passed and Elizabeth settled with her mother and stepfather. Negative judgments about having a mixed-race stepchild began to annoy Elizabeth’s stepfather. The social pressure was said to lead him to become violent within their home. As a result, Elizabeth’s grandparents gained custody while she finished her schooling. At 17, she was accepted to study nursing at the Paddington General Hospital, after several rejections from other institutions. She was an exceptional student who graduated with honors. Elizabeth attributed her rejections to her skin color and not having knowledge of her father. She had to attach a picture of herself to her applications and answer a question about her father’s occupation. As she began attending Paddington she learned that funding was created to aid migrants from south Asia, the Caribbean, and East Africa, but no such thing was happening, so she brought the issue up with her supervisor, and the result was her being given a failing grade for her class. Because of the connections, she made around the institution and around Paddington, London, she was able to be granted an appeal of her failing grade, avoiding her failing the class. Elizabeth also took up a fight against the National Health Services of London for practicing racial discrimination.
In March of 1972, Elizabeth became increasingly interested in learning who her father was. She wrote a letter to her mother asking about her father but did not give the letter to her mother. She learned the name of her father at the age of 24. A few months after writing the letter, she approached a man who was a lawyer from Sierra Leone named John Roberts about her father. He did some investigating and found information about her father. He even spoke to her father on the phone. When he revealed this information to Elizabeth, she was shocked to learn that he spoke to her father, thinking he lived in Nigeria. She was even more shocked to learn that her father lived only an hour and a half away from her. The next day she drove to meet her father. She arrived at his residence, approached his front door, and rang his doorbell, when he opened the door they greeted each other with the warmest loving hug. They both were excited to see each other. From that point on, they built a strong and loving relationship. She was able to meet her father’s side of her family in 1973, as she traveled with her father to Nigeria. She was fully embraced by his family. This was the first time in her life that her skin color did not make her an outcast. She felt connected to her father and his family. She felt connected with herself. So connected, she decided to change her name to Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu. Her father died in 1980, but his impact on her life was permanent. Her trip to Nigeria also inspired her to further pursue her career as a nurse. During the trip, she learned that one of her cousins had sickle cell anemia. This was her first time ever learning about sickle cell, but she was curious and wanted to learn more. After returning to London and continuing to practice as a nurse, no one could answer any of her questions about sickle cell because it was a little-known condition at the time in London, mainly because it did not greatly affect white people. She would later begin to gain more information about sickle cell by attending a lunch-and-learn talk by a hematologist named Misha Brozovic. During the talk, she asked numerous questions, so many questions that Misha tracked her down after the lunch-and-learn to ask Elizabeth to join her in working to learn more about sickle cell.
Elizabeth and Misha began working together as the only people in the UK seriously interested in studying sickle cell. By 1979, they made great progress, so much progress that they made a two-room hospital into the Brent Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Information, Screening and Counselling Centre. For a period of time, because of the sickle cell center, Elizabeth was the only person in London treating people with sickle cell. Elizabeth and Mish worked for years treating people with sickle cell while receiving virtually no funding because once again, sickle cell anemia was not a disease that greatly affected white people. In 1981, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter named Azuka. The relationship with Azuka’s father did not last long, so she began raising her daughter as a single parent. Along with raising her daughter, Elizabeth fought tirelessly against institutional discrimination from the National Health Services, while working to find better ways to treat sickle cell. Elizabeth was greatly influenced by the late great Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse who established the “British Hotel” which was described as a mess-table and comfortable quarters for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Because of the influence of Mary Seacole, Elizabeth founded the Mary Seacole Center For Nursing Practice. A center where black nurses and nurses from all walks of life, can study without discrimination and rejection. The center was also founded to challenge the National Health Service and its discrimination against non-whites. Elizabeth worked as a nurse from 1979 until 2007, the year she retired, but her work would never truly stop. After nursing, she began bringing awareness to the life and works of Mary Seacole, becoming the vice-chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal. Elizabeth and a committee raised 500,00 Euros in a twelve-year period to create and erect a statue of Mary Seacole at the St. Thomas hospital.
During her career, Elizabeth was a senior lecturer for the Institute of Child Health, at the University College London, advocating for people living with sickle cell anemia. She became the dean of the School of Adult Nursing Studies and was also a professor of Nursing at the University of West London. She was a member of the Sickle Cell Society, Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association of the UK, Vice President of Unite/Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, and Honorary Advisor to England's Chief Nursing Officer's Black & Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group. She has published over 32 pieces of literature and a memoir titled Mixed Blessing from a Cambridge Union in 2016. In 2001, Elizabeth's career and service in nursing earned her the distinguished honor of being appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2004, she received the Fellowship of the Royal College of Nursing, for her pioneering work in sickle cell and thalassemia treatment. In 2007, she was appointed Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London. She also received a host of other awards and is still being awarded to this day for her pioneering work. To Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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In 1875, a baby boy was born who would become one of the world’s foremost classical composers and political activists. That baby was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, born to Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor and Alice Hare Martin, in Holborn, London. Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor was born in Sierra Leone and is a member of the Creole ethnic group that’s a mixture of people from Sierra Leone and African Americans. Daniel Taylor worked as a doctor and was also the Imperial Coroner in the Gambia. There is debate about Daniel’s presence in Samuel and Alice’s lives. One source says Daniel left London returning to the Gambia unaware of Alice being pregnant. Another source says Daniel was aware of Alice being pregnant with Samuel but returned to the Gambia to work as the Imperial Coroner while keeping in touch with his son. Alice was an English woman living in Croydon during the time of her and Daniel’s relationship. After Alice’s split with Daniel, she gave birth to Samuel. She also lived with her father in Croydon until meeting and marrying a railroad worker named George Evans. Alice named Samuel after her favorite poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, founder of the romantic poetic movement in England.
Music was very influential for Alice and her family, many members of her family were musicians and Alice’s father taught Samuel how to play the violin when Samuel was a young boy. Not only did Samuel show interest in the violin, but his skill level improved quickly, prompting his grandfather to pay for his violin lessons. At the age of 15, Samuel was accepted to the Royal College of Music in South Kensington, London. Samuel entered the Royal College of Music as a violinist, but after studying under the professor and composer Charles Villers Stanford, his focus changed from the violin to composing music. His change to composing and hard work paid off because after his graduation he became a professional musician, composer, orchestra conductor, and professor at the Crystal Palace Company's School of Art in East London, England. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the composer was becoming very popular in London and abroad. His works earned him an invitation to present his compositions at the Three Choirs Festival in London, England, a prominent music festival held by the three cathedrals of Hereford, Gloucester, and Worcester. Samuel debuted his composition “Ballade in A Minor”, which was considered a masterpiece and earned Samuel the title of “genius”. By this time Samuel had created 30 compositions with “Ballade in A Minor” being his most popular at the time, he then composed Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a piece that allowed Samuel to tour the United States three times, and the piece was conducted by his former professor Charles Villiers Stanford at a premiere in 1898.
Samuel’s first tour of the United States was in 1904. Then-president Theodore Roosevelt welcomed Samuel because of his musical success, influence, and his growing work in racial and social politics. Roosevelt receiving Samuel in such a manner was uncommon for the times, especially in the United States with race relations not being favorable for black people. Touring the United States helped Samuel learn more about himself and his ancestry, and he learned more about traditional African music and how he could incorporate African music into his compositions. Samuel eventually met and collaborated with the great African American writer Paul Lawernce Dunbar, and even recreated some of Dunbar’s poems into musical compositions, also collaborating to perform Dunbar’s poems at a rectal in London. Samuel did not earn a lot of money as a composer, at times to make ends meet, he sold the rights to some of his most successful compositions for a fraction of what the pieces were eventually worth. However, he kept the rights to a number of his pieces and earned the royalties from those pieces. As I stated earlier, Samuel became interested in his father’s lineage, he did learn that his father was a descendent of African Americans who resettled, in Nova Scotia, London, the Caribbean, and Sierra Leone. Samuel married a woman named Jessie Walmisley in 1899, a woman he met while attending the Royal College of Music. Initially, Jessie’s parents did not approve of their marriage because Samuel was born of a mixed-race but eventually gave their blessing to the couple. Samuel and Jessie produced a son named Hiawatha and a daughter named Gwendolyn, both Hiawatha and Gwendolyn became musicians.
Samuel died in 1912 at the age of 37 due to pneumonia. In total, he composed 82 pieces of music, and 11 compositions were recorded. Samuel was a world-famous composer who influenced the musical world, but directly influenced black musicians around the world. His composition Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast was his most famous piece, but many of his pieces were admired and imitated by the music world. His name was lost to the pages of history outside of the music world, but his name and compositions are still influential within the world of music. Samuel proved that classical music is not just a white man’s music or limited to European musical influences. Also, true talent and will cannot, and will not be denied. Mr. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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The African country of Nigeria is the homeland of the Yoruba people, and the Forest, or the Igbo people. In the 12th century, the Igbo were known for raiding the Yoruba kingdom of Ile Ife, battling and enslaving the Yoruba people. The Igbo wore raffia palm tree leaves and costumes when raiding Ile Ife. Because of the leaves, costumes, and the severity of the raids, the Igbo were seen as spirits, leaving the Yoruba feeling helpless against the raids of the Igbo. Queen Moremi was one of the wives of Oranmiyan Omoluabi Odede, the heir to the Kingdom of Ile Ife. Queen Moremi was well-known for her beauty and courage, but she was also one of the citizens of Ile Ife who wanted to put an end to the raids of the Igbo. Queen Moremi pondered for days about a way to help her people defeat the Igbo. She then devised a plan that included visiting the gods of the river Esimirin to offer a sacrifice, in return, she would learn what the strength of the Igbo was and how to defeat them.
Queen Moremi visited the gods of the river Esimirin and promised to offer the greatest sacrifice she could, in return to learn the Igbo strengths and save her people. After promising her sacrifice, she left the river and traveled to the area of Ile Ife that was most frequently raided by the Igbo, sacrificing herself by allowing herself to be enslaved by the Igbo. She was then transported to the Igbo kingdom where she was initially kept as a slave. Queen Moremi’s plan was unfolding. The second part of her plan was to get captured by the Igbo so she could infiltrate their kingdom to learn their strength. Because she was astonishingly beautiful, the Igbo King noticed her beauty and quickly became interested in her. The third part of her plan was happening. She used her beauty, wit, and charisma to charm the king, he eventually fell in love with her, giving her his full trust.
After wooing the king, Queen Moremi was able to travel the Igbo lands learning why the Igbo were so powerful. Before going to battle with the Yoruba, the Igbo warriors covered their bodies with bamboo fibers and ekan grass along with incantations for their spiritualists. But the incantation had a weakness. If someone was to approach and pass through the Igbo warriors with a torch, the incantation would be released and the Igbo would be able to be defeated. After Queen Moremi gathered this critical information, she escaped the Igbo kingdom and returned to Ile Ife. She reunited with her husband and shared with the Yoruba army the secrets to the Igbo’s strength. With the information provided by Queen Moremi, the Yoruba went to war with the Igbo. They used torches to render the Igbo incantations useless. Now vulnerable to the attacks of the Yoruba, the Igbo were finally defeated, ending their warring and enslaving of the Yoruba. After the victory, the Yoruba people celebrated, but Queen Moremi had to keep her promise of sacrifice to the God of the Esimirin River. The life of her son Olurogbo was requested by the river gods. Because she did not expect the life of her son to be sacrificed, she pleaded with the river gods to ask for anything else but her son. The river gods only wanted her son. To avoid angering the river gods, she kept her promise and sacrificed her son. Because of her heroics and continued sacrifices for the freedom of her people, Queen Moremi is venerated and celebrated by the Yoruba people. The 4th tallest statue in Africa is dedicated to her, the Edi Festival was created to celebrate her, and a number of buildings in Nigeria are named after her. The legend of Queen Moremi lives on to remind us all that we have the power to change our lives, we just have to use it. To the legendary Queen Moremi Ajasoro, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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In the latter months of 1760, rebel leaders Takyi and Apongo were captured and killed by the British. The remaining rebels were able to escape the battle against the British militia and fled into the mountains of Jamaica in the High Windward Cockpit Country. The rebels often used guerilla warfare under the cover of the landscape of High Windward to attack the British. On October of 1760, the rebels led by Simon raided and burnt down the Ipswich Sugar Estate in the Saint Elizabeth Parish. The following December, the rebels gained another victory while burning down the house of the plantation owner Thomas Durant, and killing a number of other men. Simon led a band of 50 men and women battling plantation owners and freeing slaves. The British gathered a few men to hunt down Simon led by a man named Hynes, who was in charge of a regiment of black men hunting Simon.
Simon was able to initially escape Hynes and his men. The rebels that were caught by Hynes were killed and beheaded. They stuck the heads of the rebels on poles to intimidate the rest of the rebels. Simon and a number of rebels relocated to Clarendon, Parish where they settled in Mile Gully. Not long after settling in Mile Gully, Simon was caught by the hunters and killed. This was one of the last stands of the rebellion, but the rebellion did continue. The rebellion in total lasted for 6 years with significant battles lasting for months, within those six years. The last of the rebellion was recorded in 1766, in Westmoreland, by Africans of Akan descent enslaved in Jamaica. As I stated during part 1, a total of over 400 rebels were killed, and around 60 of the British were killed during the rebellion. It took years for the British to regain order and control in Jamaica, it also cost them millions of dollars to repair the damages. The rebellion as a whole was significant because of the length of the rebellion and the amount of damage the rebels caused. Takyi, Apongo, Simon, and other unnamed leaders were carrying on the tradition of the true Maroons. Maroons who fought for their god-given freedom. Takyi’s rebellion was inspired by the rebellions of Breffu, but Takyi’s rebellion inspired the rebellions of Queen Nanny, Samuel Sharpe, and other notable Maroon leaders. To the brave Takyi, Apongo, Simon, and all the Maroons of Jamaica, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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The exact date of the founding of the Underground Railroad is unknown. Still, in the early 1800s, free blacks with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and abolitionists had a network to help blacks escape slavery. That network eventually became the Underground Railroad, which helped a great number of black people gain their freedom. The Underground Railroad helped blacks escape going North, as well as escaping to Florida, and some to Mexico. As time passed and the number of blacks escaping slavery increased, slave labor began to decline, which affected the amount of money the plantation owners made from the slave labor. This gave rise to the “Reverse Underground Railroad”, where plantation owners hired men to recapture blacks escaping slavery. Some of the people recaptured were returned to their owners, and some of the people were resold for profits. The people who were recapturing the blacks were called anti-abolitionist. One of their recapturing methods was to disguise themselves as friendly abolitionist, only to mislead the people back into slavery.
Escaping slavery was an impossible task that many black people conquered. Taking up arms was necessary to protect themselves. The most famous and fierce conductor of the Underground Railroad is Harriet Tubman, but Aunt Polly Jackson was also a fierce conductor who was known for battling anti-abolitionist to help her people escape to freedom. I do not have any information on Aunt Polly’s early life. Because she escaped enslavement, we can assume she faced similar hardships to her counterparts. Aunt Polly escaped north along the Ohio River and found her freedom in a settlement called Africa in Ohio. Africa was a settlement created by blacks who escaped slavery. It allowed blacks to have land and create a life for their families. Aunt Polly was able to buy land and settle on a farm in Africa. Because Africa was located along the northern route of the Underground Railroad, residents living in Africa often helped blacks escape slavery. They were often victims of raids by anti-abolitionists. Aunt Polly witnessed the anti-abolitionist terrorizing her people, so she decided to help her people.
She became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but she would carry a butcher's knife and a pot of boiling water. To disguise herself, she dressed as an older woman, the disguise allowed her to not be attacked by the anti-abolitionist because they didn’t see elderly blacks as a threat. Disguised and armed, Aunt Polly would help blacks to freedom and literally fight off anti-abolitionist attempting to reenslave black people from escaping slavery. She was so successful at fighting off anti-abolitionist that she gained a reputation in the settlement of Africa. Over time, Aunt Polly’s reputation grew with the anti-abolitionist, so she became more strategic with how she helped blacks escape. She began attacking the anti-abolitionist at night, using her butcher’s knife to stab and cut the anti-abolitionist, also throwing the pot of boiling water at the men. She became very known for pouring boiling hot water on a number of anti-abolitionist. Aunt Polly was not the only person fighting off anti-abolitionist, but she became famous because of her tact and success. She, along with others fighting for the freedom of enslaved blacks, helped to slow down and eventually end the anti-abolitionist system. I do not know exactly how old Aunt Polly was, but the information I have says she was a middle-aged woman battling grown men and coming out victorious. Aunt Polly’s birth and death are unknown, but I do know she put her life on the line to make sure her people could live life free and on their own terms. To Aunt Polly Jackson, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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May 25, 1760, is the date that marks the beginning of the Western Revolt, a continuation of Takyi’s rebellion. Before we dive into Apongo’s role in one of the most significant slave rebellions in the Caribbean, let’s explore some of Apongo’s life, and learn how he became a part of Takyi’s rebellion. Apongo was a West African military leader, I do not have the information to confirm exactly where he is from in West Africa, but according to the diary of the English planter Thomas Thislewood, Apongo was a prince in Guinea who paid homage to the King of Dahomey. According to author Vincent Brown, Apongo was a Dahomey war Chief. I can confirm that Apongo was born on the Gold Coast of Africa, and he had a complicated relationship with John Cope, the Chief Principle of Britain's Cape Coast Castle, located on Africa’s Gold Coast. In the 1740s, Apongo was captured and became the property of Author Forest, Captian of the HMS Wager. After the capture of Apongo, Forrest changed Apongo’s name to Wager, after the ship he captained.
Apongo was then shipped to the plantation of Artur Forest in Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica, where he lived and worked for 20 years until the start of Takyi’s rebellion. After the death of Takyi, the rebellion was able to continue because of leaders like Apongo, as well as the organization of the rebellion. Apongo played an integral part in the planning and fighting in Takyi’s rebellion, so his escaping capture after the death of Takyi was critical to the continuance of the rebellion. On May 25, 1760, Apongo and his fellow rebels signaled the start of the rebellion by shaving their heads, also the attack on the Masemure estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica. Simon a lieutenant in the rebellion, shot and killed John Smith, the managing attorney of Masemure estate. The Western revolt was underway led by Apongo. The rebels attacked the British when their naval escort was away from the island. Initially, the rebels faced a militia with fewer numbers than they would have if the British naval escort was present. Over the next four days, the rebels and the British fought back and forth gaining and losing ground. May 29, 1760, was a key victory for Apongo and his fellow rebels. The British militia attempted to attack a rebel camp, but the rebels gained an overwhelming victory over the British, resulting in the rebel army gaining more members willing to fight the British for an all-black Jamaica.
The British were suffering humiliating losses to Aponog and his rebels, so the British decided to call for an enormous amount of reinforcements. Reinforcements from the British 74th regiment, 3 Maroon regiments, and 3 militias were deployed against the rebels to storm their encampment. The British were able to successfully breach the encampment due to the extreme reinforcements they gained. The rebels and the British battled for over 2 hours before the rebels were defeated. The militia killed men, women, and children of the rebels, even throwing some of the rebels off of a cliff. Despite the defeat, Apongo and the remaining rebels continued to wage war against the British from June 5th to July 3rd, which marked the death of Apongo. He like many other rebel leaders were defeated by the British and eventually surrendered. Apongo eventually died in a cage after being captured. In total, over 400 rebels were killed during the rebellion, and 60 of the British militia were killed. Following the death of Apongo, several of the rebels were able to evade capture and hide in the mountains of Jamaica or escape the island completely. This was not the end of the rebellion, but it leads us to Simon, who became the leader of the rebellion and our subject for part three. To be continued…….
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The island of Jamaica is revered for its beauty and culture, but in my opinion, it is an underrated island when it comes to the history of enslaved Africans revolting against their enslavers. Jamaica is the setting for today’s story, but the story begins on the gold coast of Africa in the country of Ghana. Takyi was a Fante Chief of an Akan state in Ghana, who was said to be a ruler of the Kommenda or Koromantse people, that information I have not confirmed. Takyi was a wealthy chief with a high ranking among the chiefs of the kingdom, who also spoke fluent English. Sources state that Takyi admitted to selling Africans into slavery, that is how he gained a portion of his wealth. As time passed Takyi and his people were at war with another Akan state but lost the war, Takyi is then captured and sold to the British. Takyi’s life went from being a chief in Ghana to a slave working the fields in Jamaica. Takyi and others enslaved in Jamaica faced some of the harshest treatment of any slaves recorded.
Takyi became an overseer on the plantation he worked. As the overseer, he began planning a rebellion with fellow slaves. Takyi had a vision of a Jamaica with a free colony of black people absent of white oppression or influence. To create this Jamaica he would have to defeat the British. In 1759, he would escape from his plantation into the caves of Jamaica, accompanied by fellow Africans ready to fight for their freedom. They would plan the rebellion for a year before they officially attacked the slave masters. April of 1760 was the beginning of Takyi’s Rebellion, also known as, the Easter Rebellion of Port Maria. In the early hours of Easter morning of 1760, Takyi and his followers began their rebellion, they first killed the slave masters on the plantations they worked. They immediately found themselves free and in charge of their own destinies, but they were well aware that this was only an initial defeat, real freedom came with totally defeating the British. As they killed their enslavers, they gathered as many supplies, weapons, and ammunition as they needed. The number of rebels grew as more and more Africans killed their enslavers to join the rebellion. Easter day was a bad day for plantation owners in Jamaica. The Africans rebelled until early the next morning.
The following morning, Takyi and his rebels celebrated their victories before continuing their plans to ensure their freedom. During their celebration, a cowardly African slipped away unnoticed, ran to the nearest plantation that wasn’t ravaged by the Africans, and told the plans of the rebellion to British officials. Takyi and the rebels either practiced, believed, or tolerated the obeah spiritual tradition. Because of their belief in Obeah, they trusted that they would be protected by Obeah because an Obeah spiritualist cast a spell of protection over the rebels and ensured them that the weapons of the British could not harm them. The rebels were soon facing a British militia who were alerted of the rebellion by the person who sold out the rebels. Takyi and the rebels initially faced the British militia with confidence because of the belief in the protection of Obeah by the spiritualist. The British quickly killed the spiritualist and hung him by his own mask. This spooked a great number of the rebels because they believed they were protected. A number of them fled, but Takyi and the bravest stayed and fought the British. The rebels were fighting for their freedom and enraged that their spiritualist was murdered. As the rebels were gaining the upper hand, Maroons who were contracted to fight with the British joined the fight against the rebels.
Takyi and the rebels were fighting for a month before Takyi was killed by a Maroon named Davy. Once Davy killed Takyi, he beheaded him and presented Takyi’s head to the British. Takyi’s death did not stop the rebellion, it only fueled the rebels to continue their fight. Takyi’s rebellion was Jamaica’s second-longest rebellion behind the 30-year rebellion led by a brave woman named Breffu. I profile Breffu in my new book On the Shoulders of Giants Volume 4 The Caribbean. A waterfall in Jamaica was named after Takyi, Tacky Falls, and a school was named after him. His brave efforts and strategy led to Jamaica’s second-longest rebellion. As I stated earlier, the death of Takyi was not the end of the rebellion, but it marks the rise of Apongo and the Western Revolt of 1760. To be continued.
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July 4, 1844, is said to be the birth date of Edmonia Lewis, but that date is not confirmed, because Edmonia Lewis was known to embellish the details of her childhood, so there is no official account of her birth date or parts of her early childhood. We do know she was born in Rensselaer, Ney York, a city located across the Hudson River from Albany, New York. Her mother was named Catherine Lewis, who was a half Indigenous American of the Mississauga tribe and half African American from Canada. Catherine was also a very skilled craftswoman. She used those skills to provide for her family. There are several accounts of who Edmonia’s father was. Some believe he was a free black man named Samuel Lewis, others believe her father was the half African American and half Indigenous American author Robert Benjamin Lewis. When Edmonia reached the age of 9, unfortunately, both her mother and father passed away, so she and her brother Samuel moved to upstate New York to live with their maternal aunts. Lewis’ tribal name was Wildfire and her brother was Sunrise; they were called by these names when they lived with their aunts. Lewis and her aunts weaved baskets and made moccasin shoes and blouses to sell to the tourist at Niagara Falls. Lewis and Samuel lived with their aunts for 4 years until Samuel moved to San Francisco to find work. Samuel became wealthy through the California gold rush, so he was eager to pay for his sister's education.
Lewis enrolled in the New York Central College’s pre-colligate program. New York Central College was a Baptist abolitionist school. She attended the school for three years before being dismissed from the school for what Lewis states as “being called wild”. When Lewis lived with her parents and aunts she lived a nomadic lifestyle until the age of 12, before being sent to the school. Despite the label of wild and being dismissed from the school, information was found to prove she was an excellent student. Lewis’ brother Samuel then sent his sister to the Oberlin Academy Preparatory School, she attended the school for three years before being admitted into Oberlin College. During her time at Oberlin, she lived with Reverend John Keep and his wife and added Mary to the beginning of her name, now being called Mary Edmonia Lewis. She received a well-rounded education, studying subjects from zoology to sculpting, and was known to use her unbound imagination to create art. Lewis was labeled as mischievous, being one of the few women of color at the school. She stated that she often faced racism. Lewis eventually left Oberlin college, some believe she was forced out, because of an incident with two white female students that tarnished her name. In January of 1862, two of Lewis’ housemates were preparing for an unsupervised sleigh ride to visit their boyfriends during a holiday break. In an attempt to help keep the girls warm Lewis served the girls spiced wine. During the sleigh ride, the girls became very sick and were believed to be poisoned, so that meant that Lewis was the suspect.
Sources state that via medical testimony, Lewis added Spanish fly to the spiced wine for the girls. Charges were filed against Lewis and she would later have to attend trial. Lewis was not arrested and the local news outlets didn’t make the story a headline until the trial. A group of terrorists kidnapped and beat Lewis very badly one night as she was leaving Reverend Keep’s home, in retaliation to the girls being poisoned. Lewis’ initial court date for the alleged poisoning was delayed because of her injuries. The trial officially started on February 27, 1862, Lewis was represented by a mixed-race attorney named John Mercer Langston. Langston was a skilled lawyer and used his skills to obtain an insufficient evidence verdict for Lewis’ trial. Charges were dropped against Lewis but the public humiliation and tarnishing of her name had just begun. She was later accused of stealing art supplies and helping someone burglarize local properties, both charges were dropped against her. By this time it had become very difficult for Lewis to continue attending Oberlin, so she eventually left the school. In 1864, Lewis moved to Boston, Massachusetts to start her career as an artist, which was still funded by her brother. It is said she saw a statue of Benjamin Franklin and was inspired to become a sculptor. While in Boston, Lewis was able to connect with an abolitionist community which helped her meet other sculptors and artists. Reverend Keep wrote a letter of recommendation for Lewis to help her connect with the abolitionist community and to find a mentor. She would eventually become an apprentice to the sculptor Edward Augustus Brackett. Brackett provided Lewis with clay, tools, and know-how, to help her become a master sculptor. She became a very good sculptor in a short period of time, she was mastering sculpting with clay and plaster. She would often make sculptures and medallions of popular abolitionists.
Lydia Maria Child was an abolitionist and interviewer. On several occasions, she would interview Lewis and display her work in newspapers. Lewis found early success with her sculptures. She participated in a local fair to help raise money for the all-black Massachusetts 54th Infantry, she made a bust of Sergeant William H. Carney, the first black man to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the infantry. Lewis admired the infantry and Commander Shaw, especially for his work with the abolitionist. Commander Shaw honored Lewis by purchasing a bust. In 1865, Lewis would sell photos and copies of the bust to help fund a trip to Italy. Lewis stated that while living in Italy she could create her art free of racism and gender discrimination. She arrived in Italy in 1865, where she studied with sculptors Hiram Powers and Thomas Ball, two men that helped her improve greatly as a sculptor. She then moved to Rome where she joined a group of women who left the U.S. and Brittan to find a place to create art. She began sculpting with marble when she moved into the former home of the famous sculptor Antonio Canova. To help make a living she created and sold small busts and full-length sculptors. She completed her first masterpiece in 1867 Forever Free. A sculpture that depicted two African slaves becoming free. Lewis did return to the U.S. briefly to attend a dedication to the sculpture at Tremont Temple in Boston. Meanwhile, back in Italy, Lewis had become highly publicized by the media outlets. Her sculpture The Arrow Maker, a depiction of an Indigenous American father showing his daughter how to shoot an arrow, also gain much acclaim.
Living and creating in Italy allowed Lewis to forge a great career for herself. She was able to make substantial amounts of money from her sculptures. She was also able to display and sell her art at numerous art exhibitions throughout the world. The Death of Cleopatra was created for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The sculpture was also highly acclaimed by many art enthusiasts and experts. The piece did come with some controversy over the symbol of the sculpture and the details added, some felt Lewis could not openly use the piece to express the plight of African American people. The sculpture was placed in storage for a while, then purchased and placed on the grave of a racehorse, before finally being placed in the Smithsonian in 1994. Lewis was hired to create the portrait of then-president Ulysses S. Grant. He was very happy with the final product. Lewis would also create a bust of then-senator Charles Sumner. Lewis created her sculptures in the neoclassicism style, a style of art that began in the mid-1800s in Italy and France. By the late1880s, neoclassicism was going out of style and Lewis’s popularity was declining but she continued to create busts, some that were later found and curated. Lewis died on September 17, 1907, in London, England. She is regarded as the first black woman to be internationally recognized as a master sculptor. She is the sculptor whose shoulders even the great sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller stands on. When she found her passion she did not allow anyone or anything to stop her. To make her dream come true she even moved to another country. To the great Mary Edmonia Lewis, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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“The Mother of the Mossi” is the title given to the woman I am presenting today. She was beautiful, strong, a warrior, a wife, a mother, and a matriarch. Naba Nedega was the ruler of the Dagomba Kingdom, which is modern-day Ghana, between the 11th and 15th centuries. A number of scholars believe he ruled in the 12th century. Naba Nedega had a daughter named Yennenga. Yennega was a tall and beautiful girl who loved to ride horses. This dynamic was odd in the Dagomba Kingdom because horse riding was reserved for the men. In addition to riding horses, she mastered the javelin, spear, and bow and arrow, and used those skills to become a master hunter. Being tall, smart, slender, agile, and a skilled hunter, made her father recruit her for his army. Within her father’s army, Yennenga developed the reputation of being an excellent warrior who other armies feared. Her athleticism and tact allowed her to become the leader of her own regiment. She was known for leading her regiment into battle and coming out victorious.
As time passed and Yennenga grew older, her father wanted her to forgo marriage and remain in his army. Sources say that Yennenga did enjoy being in her father’s army, but she also longed for love and a family. Because of uncertain circumstances, Yennenga left her home and ventured into the forest of what is present-day Burkina Faso. There are many stories telling why Yennenga left her home, one story says she asked her father if she could become a wife and start a family, her father refused, she was saddened by his answer and fled her home. Another story says, she was walking in her village one day, saw a mother feeding her child, and realized she wanted to be more than a part of her father’s army.
While lost in the forest of Bitou Yennenga came upon a young elephant hunter named Riale from Mali. Riale and Yennenga became acquainted with each other and eventually fell in love. The two would produce a son named Ouedraogo. When Ouedraogo was a young boy, Yennenga sent Ouedraogo to Dagomba to meet his grandfather Naba Nedega. When Naba Nedega meets Ouedraogo he was immediately overjoyed because he searched for his daughter for years and was happy she was alive. Naba Nedega arranged a feist inviting Yennenga, Riale, and Ouedraogo to attend. Once and for all, Naba Nedega’s family was reunited. Ouedraogo would learn to become a ruler and warrior from his grandfather. Ouedraogo was said to be as skilled as his mother in riding a horse, using the spear, javelin, and bow and arrow. When Ouedraogo became of age, he moved to Bitou and eventually established the Mossi Kingdom. Now you know why Yennenga is the “Mother of the Mossi” and why she is revered by the Mossi. To Yennega, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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The marshlands of Southern Iraq are the setting for today’s story. The Abbasid Caliphate were rulers of the Islamic world who came to power in 750 CE, after defeating the Umayyad Caliphate. At the time the city of Kufa, Iraq, was the capital city of the Caliphate, but their empire stretched from Libya to Iran. The marshlands were abandoned by their original inhabitants because the land became inhabitable due to excessive flooding which caused layers of natron to form on the land. Wealthy merchants and maganents were interested in buying the land to have it restored for agricultural purposes, and they would use servant labor to restore the lands. As the merchants and maganents proceeded with their plans, they either purchased or stole people from the east coast of Africa and the islands along the east coast of Africa. Over time the slave labor of the Abbasid consisted of people they conquered, but the Zanj specifically were classified as people from the East coast of Africa. The Abbasid slaves were deployed to the marshlands to work the lands until it became fit for agricultural production. Even though slavery in the Islamic world was different from chattel slavery, the conditions the Zanj lived and worked in were inhumane.
As time passed and the working conditions did not improve for the Zanj, disdain for the Abbasid began to grow throughout the people. A number of the Zanj converted to Islam with the belief that their conditions would improve, but they were misled. Dissension was flowing through the Abbasid Caliphate beginning in 861 CE, the Anarchy of Samarra is what this period of dissension was called. During the Anarchy of Samarra, the Abbasid government was at odds with its military. This distraction allowed enslaved Zanj rebels to overtake certain provinces and maintain control because of a lack of government resources to oppose the rebels. Around 861 CE, Ali ibn Muhammad enters the picture and would become a central figure of the Zanj rebellion. Little is known about Muhammad’s background, he is said the be a descendent of a slave woman, but Muhammad himself claimed to be a descendent of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin, and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. But there is not enough information to verify either claim. Muhammad moved to the city of Bahrain in 863 CE. Because of his claims to be a descendent of Ali ibn Abi Talib, he amassed a large following where taxes were collected in his name and he was viewed as their ruler. He was even able to lead his followers into a rebellion against the Abbasid, which was quickly squashed. This defeat and humiliation lead Muhammad to relocate to the city of Basra. While in Basra, Muhammad and a few of his followers who remained with him attempted to exploit the dissension between the local tribes. His plan was to align himself with one of the tribes to strengthen his troops to eventually oppose the Abbasid Caliphate.
His plans backfired, the tribes could not be convinced to join him, some of his men were arrested and jailed, and the rest fled for their lives. Muhammad himself was captured and jailed in the city of Wasit. He was only imprisoned for a short time, due to using his gift of gab to earn his freedom from jail. After his release from jail, Muhammad relocated to Baghdad where he found more people willing to support his cause and follow him. He and his new supporters traveled to the outer limits of Basra; entering the city would have led to his immediate arrest. As Muhammad and his supporters set up their camps outside of Basra, they encountered the Zanj and the inhumane conditions they lived and worked in. Muhammad being the self-identified recruiter and liberator, began engaging with the Zanj and recruiting a number of them to join his cause against the Abbasid. In addition to their recruitment of the Zanj, Muhammad and his men would free small bands of slaves that were lightly guarded. They would attack the slaves overseer’s and free the slaves. Over time, Muhammad’s following was extremely large and a threat to the Abbasid. When the rebellion started, Muhammad and his men were severely unarmed, accounts state that they barely had five swords for the whole army, they used sticks and whatever items they could get their hands on. They then raided more slaveholders and freed more slaves, and acquired more weapons and people.
The Abbasid Caliphate was under pressure from other kingdoms either regaining control over Abbasid lands or looking to take control of Abbasid lands. We do know that because of the outside distractions, the Caliphate did not take Ali ibn Muhammad and the Zanj as a serious threat. By the time the Zanj were actually taken seriously, it was too late, the Zanj were scoring a number of victories against the Abbasid mercenaries and gaining some control of the area and the people. After an overwhelming victory in the battle at the Barges, the Zanj were now viewed as a threat by the Abbasid. The Abbasid then deployed a group of Turkish soldiers to battle the Zanj, and the Zanj continued to crush their enemies. The Zanj rebellion officially began in 869 CE, by 870 CE, the Zanj captured the city of Basra and continued to gain victory after victory over the Abbasid for the next 15 years. The year 879 CE would be the beginning of the fall of the Zanj rebellion. The Abbasids employed Al-Muwaffaq and his son al-Mu‘tadid to battle the Zanj, al-Mu’tadid was the leader and his men were able to gain some victories over the Zanj and reclaim some of the land taken by the Zanj. The Zanj capital city of al-Mukhtara fell in 883 CE. During the battle, Ali ibn Muhammad was killed and beheaded. His head was placed on a pole high enough so all who opposed the Abbasid could see. A number of the remaining rebels were pardoned to prevent any future uprisings by remaining rebels.
The Zanj rebellion caused the Abbasid Caliphate to appear weak in the presence of its enemies. The Abbasid exhausted time, money, resources, and people, to suppress the Zanj rebellion, while other nations were opposing the Abbasid. This rebellion is unique because it is one of the major rebellions of the Islamic world, but it is also one of the longest rebellions in the Islamic world. Many scholars argue that this rebellion is not specifically a rebellion of African people because the Zanj were joined by other groups of oppressed people to oppose the Abbasid. It is not my intent to determine whether the rebellion was completely African or not, I’m here to expose you to yet another story of African people rising up against their oppressors to fight for their freedom. This rebellion lasting 15 years is an example of the leadership of Ali ibn Muhammad, and the tact and skill of the Zanj. Once again the rebellion did not exist only of African people, but I am acknowledging the African presence in the Zanj rebellion. To the Zanj and the other rebels who opposed the Abbasid Caliphate, we stand on your shoulders.
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This story begins at the Hermitage Plantation in Lousia County, Virginia. Henry Brown was born enslaved and his parents were also enslaved. I do not know much about his parents, but he did have four siblings. Brown was able to live with his family until the age of 15 after the death of the plantation owner John Barret. Brown’s family was separated and he was sent to live in Richmond, Virginia to work in a tobacco factory owned by William Barret, the son of John Barret. William did keep one of Brown’s sisters as his mistress. Let’s fast forward to the year 1836, Brown would marry a woman named Nancy who was also enslaved on a nearby plantation. Henry and Nancy Brown produced 3 children, and Henry was able to earn enough from the tobacco factory to support his family. He and his family lived in a house he rented, he also paid the owner of his wife to prevent him from selling her away. Around 1848, Nancy’s owner sold her while she was pregnant to a plantation in North Carolina.
Brown was devastated that his wife was sold away from him, and sold while pregnant. He could no longer remain enslaved so he devised a plan to free himself. Brown recruited a free black man named James C.A. Smith and a white man named Samuel A. Smith, the three men planned to have Brown shipped in a box to a free state through the postal system. Samuel Smith consulted with members of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and other anti-slavery supporters to create a network to have Brown shipped to a Quaker merchant. On the day of his escape in 1849, Brown burned his hand severely so he would have a legitimate excuse to not be at work, and to not be seen as attempting to escape. Later the two Smith men secured Brown into a small box with the label “dry goods” and “handle with care”, the box also had a small air hole for Brown to breathe. Inside the box, Brown carried water and a few biscuits to sustain himself. This method of escape was very risky, but as Brown stated in his biography, worth the risk.
Brown was traveling from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the trip was very arduous, he was turned upside down for several hours of the trip. His escape nearly cost him his life. But once again, it was worth it. The box was handled very roughly on many occasions. Between the box being tossed around and Brown spending so much time on his head, the escape took a physical and mental toll on Brown’s mind and body. It took a total of 27 hours to ship the box from Virginia to Philadelphia. Brown's box a shipped by train, boat, and wagon, to the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee on March 30, 1849. The great William Still was a member of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee and a contributor to Henry Brown gaining his freedom. Henry Brown had accomplished the unthinkable, he literally escaped from slavery in a box by mailing himself from Virginia to Philadelphia. The federal laws that protect mail being shipped across the country helped Broen earn his freedom, these laws also worried slave owners because literally, anything could be inside the packages being shipped across the country. Laws that Brown and the Smith men took advantage of.
Following his new freedom, like many other blacks who escaped freedom, Brown became an advocate for the ending of slavery. He became a member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and became acquainted with the legendary Frederick Douglass. As Brown's fame grew he was given the nickname “box” because of his daring escape from slavery in a box. Brown would go on the publish two versions of his autobiography titled Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown. Frederick Douglass was proud of Brown for his escape and success, but he was not fond of Brown revealing how he escaped in his autobiography. As a result, blacks who were escaping slavery were found and arrested. It is said that Brown had a chance to buy his wife’s freedom from the owner she was sold to but declined the offer. Brown along with one of the Smith men moved to England after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Brown was able to tour England as a well-known public figure speaking out against slavery. As his fame waned he became an actor in a few plays and a magician as well. Brown would meet and marry a white woman named Mary Jane Floyd and they produced children. The Brown family would become a magical act and Brown would perform until his death in 1897. Henry Brown died at the age of 82 or 83, living a very eventful life. A life that he took control of despite being born into slavery. His breaking point was when his wife was sold away. He decided to free himself by being mailed to Philadelphia in a box. After freeing himself, he did use his voice and fame to advocate for the freedom of other enslaved black people. This is the story of Henry “Box” Brown. Thank you for listening.
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On April 5, 1839, Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, behind the home of the man that owned his mother. Lydia Polite was the name of Smalls’ mother. She was also born a slave in South Carolina. There is no information on Smalls’ father, just speculation. As a child, Smalls was preferred by the plantation owner John McKee, over the other black children on the plantation. Smalls’ experience was very different from the other black children, so his mother worried that he would not have a true understanding of the horrors of slavery. Lydia arranged for Smalls to begin working in the fields, there he would learn how enslaved people were truly treated. This experience led to him becoming defiant against the plantations owners and crew. He was often defiant and often jailed. He was jailed so much that his mother pleaded for him to be relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, a move that would help to change his life. John McKee agreed to relocate Smalls. By this time he was a teenager who had no idea, he would become an important historical figure. After moving to Charleston he began working several types of jobs but his jobs on the Charleston waterfront, are the jobs that gave him the skills to make history. Smalls’ work abord the ships along the South Carolina coast afforded him intimate knowledge of the coast, steady income, and a chance to meet and marry Hannah Jones. While Smalls worked on the ships, Hannah worked as a maid in hotels. They were able to live together but both had to pay their owners the majority of their salaries.
Robert Smalls approached the owner of his wife and asked if he could buy her freedom. Her owner was willing to sell her to Smalls but the price was $800. Smalls did not have enough money to buy his wife’s freedom, but he did have a plan to set his family free. By this time Smalls was working aboard a confederate ammunitions ship called the Planter. May 13, 1862, was a significant day in the life of the Smalls family. The day appeared to be a normal day, nothing out of the ordinary, but inside the mind of Robert Smalls was a plan to free himself, the crew aboard the Planter, and his family. As the captain of the ship and his men were ashore, the boat was docked with Smalls and the other enslaved black men aboard. Smalls told the men his plan to escape and they bravely followed along. They had to sneak the ship away from the dock and down the Charleston harbor. As they sailed down the harbor they picked up Smalls’ wife and children along the way. The plan was to mimic every action the captain and crew would make so they could pass through the checkpoints without being caught. Every detail was critical in this escape. Smalls even wore the captain’s hat and mimicked the movements of the captain as they passed through the checkpoints. Once the ship was out of range to be attacked by the Confederate checkpoints, it was discovered that Smalls and his men took the ship to sail to freedom. They eventually sailed to a Union Navy port at Ft. Sumter. Before they approached the fort, they changed the confederate flag they used to escape with to a white flag to reduce their chances of being attacked by the union army. They were not fired upon and were allowed to approach Ft. Sumter. When the boat was finally at the dock, Smalls appeared, introduced himself, and announced that he brought the union a confederate ship as a gift.
This moment was very significant because Smalls and his men were smart and brave enough to set themselves free from slavery. Also, Smalls was able to free his family. This escape was also significant because it was used as propaganda to demoralize the will of the confederate soldiers. A black man was able to steal an important battleship of the confederate and free his family during the process. After gaining his freedom, Smalls worked as a ship captain for the union during the civil war and was an avid spokesperson for ending slavery. By this time, Smalls was regarded as a hero for bringing the union a confederate battleship, and he was paid for the appraisal of the battleship. Smalls officially became the captain of the Planter in 1863 after his bravery during one of the many battles he was a part of. The white captain of the Planter was spooked by the gunfire, Smalls took the lead of the ship during the battle. Smalls lead a total of 17 campaigns as the captain of the Planter and the Keokuk. In addition to his military success, Smalls used his voice to advocate for the rights of black people in America. He became one of the black delegates to attend the Republican National Conventions in 1864. His activism would heighten later in 1864 after he was removed from an all-white streetcar while waiting on the Planter to be repaired. Smalls used his celebrity to lead a mass boycott of the public transportation system in Philadelphia. The boycott led to the integration of the Philadelphia streetcars in 1867. After the Civil War, Smalls settled in South Carolina when he purchased the MaKee plantation in Beaufort, he also educated himself. With money from his time with the military and his time as a sea captain, Smalls added entrepreneur to his resume. He opened a convenience store, founded a school, and founded the newspaper the Southern Standard.
Politics was the next move for Robert Smalls. In 1868, he was a delegate at the South Carolina Constitutional Convention. He followed that by being elected to the state house of representatives. From 1870 to 1874 Smalls served as the chair of the printing committee for the state senate. Smalls was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1874 and served on the agricultural committee. He used his position to improve the conditions of the people that voted for him. 80% of the votes went to Smalls in the election, 68% of the Beaufort population are black people. So he helped his people. Smalls was able to receive the resources to improve the Port Royal harbor, an important economic center for the residents of Beaufort. Smalls tried to add an anti-discrimination amendment to the army reorganization bill in 1876, but the amendment was rejected. Smalls became an opponent of Confederate General Matthew Butler and the Red Shirts. A confederate militia, similar to the KKK. During Smalls’ campaign for re-election, his opponent was George D. Tillman, a supporter of the Red Shirts. The Red Shirts used intimidating tactics to scare blacks from voting and used propaganda to spread lies about Smalls. Despite the tactics of Tillman and the Red Shirts, Smalls was re-elected with 52% of the votes. Smalls was charged and convicted of accepting a $5,000 bribe as a chair on the South Carolina state senate. He was sentenced to three years in prison. His conviction was outrageous and lacked substantial evidence. He was released in three days because of an appeal by the supreme court. Smalls was able to face Tillman in Washington D.C. and once again retain his elected position over Tillman. Tillman eventually defeated Smalls in the 1878 elections, using Smalls' conviction as his battle cry. In 1879, Smalls’ case was resolved and he was free of any criminal charges or hassle. Smalls attempted to regain his elected position from Tillman in the 1880 election but was defeated because of issues of trust between South Carolina’s black population and the Republican party.
Smalls was able to sue Tillman for using intimidation to frighten away black voters in the 1880 election. The case was tried and proven that Tillman did use intimidation, and Smalls was once again over the agriculture and militia committees. The House Chamber even tried to prevent Smalls from gaining a victory by not showing up to vote, but Smalls prevailed. Smalls continued to fight for political positions because he understood that black people in South Carolina needed to have the political power to control their lives. Smalls’ wife died in 1883. In 1890, he married a woman named Annie Wigg. Their relationship lasted five years when she died in 1895. Smalls was appointed as the collector at the Beaufort port in 1889, lost the position in 1892 when the Democrats took control of the White House, and regained the position in 1898 with the Republicans regained control of the White House. Robert Smalls died in 1915 at the age of 76 having lived one of the most incredible lives ever. Born into slavery, highly favored by his owners, moved to work in the fields, became fully aware of the brutality of slavery, started a family, stole a confederate battleship, escaped slavery, joined the Union army, became a successful soldier, became a successful politician, and used his celebrity and platform to fight for the rights of his people. Mr. Robert Smalls, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On November 1, 1892, Ruth Janetta Temple was born in Natchez, Mississippi to Richard Jason Temple and Amy Morton Temple. Richard Temple was a Baptist Preacher who was a dissertation short of earning a Ph.D. in ministry. Amy Temple was an educated woman who earned a degree from Shaw University. Because both of her parents were college graduates education was of most importance in the Temple household. Richard Temple also believed that his calling was to preach in the South and help bring people of all races together. He promised his wife that he would buy a house by the side of a road and use that house to serve and unite people. Mr. Temple made good on his promise and created “Templedale”, which was a 13-acre plot that housed the Temple family home and the First Baptist Church of Natchez, Mississippi. Mr. Temple was a community leader, and Mrs. Temple would feed and nurse any person of any race that was in need. Richard Temple passed away from an illness when Ruth was 10 years old, his family was devastated. As a result of Richard’s death, Amy Temple moved her family to Los Angles, California in 1904, she was never truly fond of living in the south.
As the Temple family were settling into their home in Los Aneles, Amy Temple decided to homeschool her children. She eventually found a nursing job to support her family, her children began attending public school, and Ruth gained the responsibility of helping her mother with her siblings. At the age of 13, Ruth’s brother Walter was playing with gun powder and a hose. The gun powder blew up in his face knocking him to the ground. Ruth’s mother panicked. Ruth ran to her brother and began to help him. While caring for her brother she realized two things, her brother was not seriously injured, and she had a passion for becoming a doctor. A short time later, Ruth’s neighbor Ernie Fennell fell into an oil ditch and was carried almost a mile by the current. When he was pulled out of the ditch he was covered in oil and not breathing. Ruth performed CPR on Ernie and saved his life. This second event was further confirmation to Ruth that she was destined to become a doctor. Her belief in herself was strong even though many people told her that she couldn’t become a doctor because she was a girl and because she was black. But Ruth did not allow the opinions of others to distract her from her goal.
The Temple family became acquainted with the Troy family, Theodore and Juilette Troy. The Troy family was fond of Ruth and believed in her brilliance and grit. They knew she wanted to study medicine but could not afford to pay for college. In 1913, Ruth was an invited guest speaker for the Los Angles Forum, a political organization founded by black people in Los Angles. Ruth’s speech was spectacular, so spectacular that Theodore Troy stood up and made a motion to the organization to pay for Ruth’s education so she could become a doctor. The organization unanimously agreed with Theodore. With Ruth’s college tuition being paid for she enrolled in what is now Loma Linda University in 1913. She was one of the very few black students attending Loma Linda and became the first black woman to graduate from the university in 1918. After graduating college, Ruth began working in the underserved and poverty-stricken areas of Southeast Los Angeles. During this time, she learned much about the people she was serving, their living conditions, the culture of the people she was serving, and how to better serve them medically. With her education and working experience, she gained an internship at the Los Angeles County Health Department in 1921. During her internship, she learned the business of health care and how to operate a health clinic. She not only interned at the L.A. Health Department but she was a practicing physician at Loma Linda’s pediatric clinic. This experience piques her interest in obstetrics and gynecology.
As a practicing physician for Loma Linda’s pediatric clinic, she helped to deliver hundreds of babies and was able to serve members of L.A.’s underserved community. Los Angeles experienced an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1924, many people in the city were afraid of the plague because of how it devastated Europe in medieval times. Dr. Temple, being a levelheaded and experienced physician, developed a three-step method that was implemented to eradicate the plague. The three-step method was as follows: 1. Acquire basic health knowledge, 2. Put the knowledge to practice, 3. Share the knowledge with others. Her method helped many people learn more about the plague, which eventually eliminated the plague. The plague never resurfaced in Los Angeles again. Dr. Temple was introduced to her friend’s uncle Mr. Otis Banks, a real estate broker. The two became a couple and eventually married in 1918. Later in 1928, Dr. Temple and Otis opened the first medical clinic in the medically underserved area of Southeast Los Angeles, The Temple Health Institute. Dr. Temple and Otis were so dedicated to the mission that they lived in the medical clinic, and when there was no room to sleep in the building, they slept in their chicken coop. In addition to the health clinic, Dr. Temple founded the “Healthy Study Club,” an organization dedicated to teaching health literacy to the people of Southeast Los Angeles. She witnessed a baby die because of a lack of education and resources, so she created the “Healthy Stay Club” so no other babies or people died because of a lack of information or care.
During an STD outbreak in 1941, Dr. Temple’s Healthy Study Club implemented STD testing and education at the two of the local nightclubs where most of the people with the STDs frequented. The Healthy Study Club was so successful that chapters of the club spread throughout Los Angeles, helping to improve the education and health of the people of Los Angeles. 1941 is also the year that Los Angeles appointed Dr. Temple as its first public health officer, and the Los Angeles County Health Department paid for Dr. Temple to earn a Master’s degree in public health from Yale University. Dr. Temple graduated with her Master’s degree and was an honors student. She was also fortunate to learn from one of the founders of the public health field, C.E.A. Winslow. The Healthy Study Club became the Total Health Program, and Dr. Temple was armed with much more knowledge and experience. Because of her excellent work, Dr. Temple became the director of the Division of Public Health for the city of Los Angeles in 1948. She also became one of the founders and the medical director of the Community Health Week for Los Angeles. Dr. Ruth Temple became a medical icon in Los Angeles. She received several commendations from Ronald Regan, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. One of the biggest acknowledgments of her iconic career was the renaming of the East Los Angeles Health Center to the Dr. Ruth temple Health Center. During a polio outbreak in the 1950s, Dr. Temple’s three-step method was once again used, which suppressed the polio outbreak.
Dr. Temple retired from her public health work in 1962. In 1963, she became the first black woman director of the Health Education Department for the Pacific Union. Dr. Ruth Temple is a true trailblazer and a real example of determination. Despite many people telling her what she could not do, she not only became a physician, but she became a public health and medical icon in the city of Los Angeles. She saw that her community lacked the proper medical resources. Instead of complaining and expecting others the help her community, she stepped up and built a medical clinic for her people. If we do not take care of ourselves, no one else will. To the iconic Dr. Ruth Janetta Temple, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward.
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On February 12, 1855, Frances “Fannie” Barrier was born to Anthony and Harriett Barrier in Brockport, New York. Fannie was the youngest of Anthony and Harriett’s three children. Anthony worked as a barber, coal salesman, and church leader who was well respected in his community. Harriett was a housewife who taught classes at her church and played the piano. The Barrier family was one of a handful of black families living in Brockport. Fannie was a very smart child, she excelled in her academics, playing instruments, and creating art. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Fannie excelled as a pianist. Because the Barrier family lived in an all-white town, their children attended an all-white school, but Fannie and her siblings were excellent and popular students. In 1970, as a college student, Fannie became the first black person to graduate from the Brockport, New York State Normal School, which is now the SUNY-College at Brockport. Fannie’s professional career began as a teacher in Missouri where she experienced extreme racism and segregation for the first time. Even though her family was one of the few black families in Brockport, they did not experience Southern American racism. Disheartened by the racism she experienced, Fannie left Missouri for Boston, Massachusetts, to study piano at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Fannie left Missouri because of the racism but had no idea racism would be waiting for her in Boston. White students did not want Fannie to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, so she was forced to leave the school. Upset and hurt because she was dismissed from the school, Fannie moved to Washington D.C. and resumed her teaching career. She also enrolled in Washington D.C.’s School of Fine Arts to study portrait painting. Fannie used her social skills to network with educated and prominent blacks in D.C. which helped her make the proper connections she needed. She was also able to meet a black lawyer named Mr. Samuel Laing Williams who became her husband in 1887. Fannie and Samuel moved to Chigaco and quickly became a notable family within the city. They were excellent at networking with black and white people in important positions. Their connections were essential in helping them fight racism. Samuel and Fannie were able to use their talents to give back to their communities. Fannie was a teacher who taught undereducated blacks, and blacks newly freed from slavery, Samuel created a club for black elites called the Prudence Crandall Study Club. Fannie and Samuel also used their connections to help establish the Providence Hospital in 1891. The hospital was created to be led by black people, it hired and admitted black people, it also offered a training school for black nurses who couldn’t study at white schools. The Williamses became members of the Unitarian Church in Chicago, where the pastor and the congregation fought for the rights of blacks and women.
Fannie and Samuel were among the black Elite of Chicago after moving from Washington D.C., they used their prominence to give back to the blacks who were less fortunate. Fannie taught music to black women and even became very active in fighting for the rights of women. Fannie, along with a woman named Mary Jones created a women's rights organization called the Cultured Negro Women. Fannie became a member of the Illinois Women’s Alliance (IWA), which opened the door for other black women to join the organization. The IWA was known for bringing public attention to the issues of women in the U.S. In 1889, Fannie became the vice president of the IWA, she focused on serving poor women who suffered from health and hygiene issues. Fannie became acquainted with Frederick Douglas and Booker T. Washington, who helped her better represent black people and fight for black issues. She became a traveling lecturer who often spoke on behalf of the rights of black people and black women. In 1893, Fannie was selected to speak at the Chicago Columbian Expose. Black women were not permitted to have positions in the planning of the expose and hosting exhibitions. Fannie fought for black women to be represented in the expose. As a result of the efforts of Fannie and other black women, two positions were given to black women to shut them up and make them feel better. Fannie was given the position of clerk of colored interest, she was also allowed to address the audience at the expose. Fannie spoke to the World's Congress of Representative Women, she dispelled the idea of black women being inferior to white women because they were slaves. She then called for all women to unite and fight for the rights of all women. Next, she addressed the World's Parliament of Religions, calling for all churches to embrace people because of who they were and not because of their race. These two speeches made Fannie an American household name and notable women's rights activist.
Fannie’s prominence was growing and she was earning the respect of her peers. Her oratorical skills were so loved that she was selected as the only black woman to eulogize Susan B. Anthony in 1907. Fannie was involved in the founding of the National League of Colored Women, the National Association of Colored Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Federation of Afro-American Women. Fannie and Samuel's activism seemed to never stop. They became active in the Hyde Park Colored Republican Voters Club and Taft League, encouraging blacks to vote and helping them learn the voting process. She also helped to develop the Frederick Douglas Center and the Phyllis Wheatly Home for girls in Chicago. In 1896, Fannie was inducted into the Chicago Women’s Club. Fannie became a supporter of Booker T. Washington’s message in 1900 and became the first black woman to be a part of the Chicago Library Board in 1924. After Samuel Williams’ death in 1921, Fannie moved back to Brockport, New York in 1926 to live with her sister until her death in 1944. Fannie was adamant about black people and black women gaining their rights and being treated as human beings by white Americas. Fannie and her husband were financially comfortable and well-connected in the cities they lived in, but they still understood the obligation to help their people fight oppression, and live better lives. To Mrs. Fannie Barrier Williams, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, Charlie and Dorothy Jemison welcomed their third
child Mae Jemison who would change the world. When Mae was three years old her family moved to Chicago to find better educational opportunities for their children. Early in her school years, Mae was known to spend an enormous amount of time in the school library reading about science, specifically Astronomy.
While attending Morgan Park High School, Mae found her passion. She began pursuing a career in biomedical engineering. Upon graduating from high school in 1973 with consistent honors, she became a student at Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship.
Jemison double majored at Stanford receiving bachelor's degrees in Chemical Engineering and
African American studies in 1977. After graduation, she entered Cornell University pursuing a medical degree. Mae Jemison traveled extensively while at Cornell.
She visited Cuba, Kenya, and Thailand, where she worked at a Cambodian refugee camp. She
graduated from Cornell in 1981 before attending Los Angeles County/University of Southern
California Medical Center where she received hands-on training to become a doctor. Using all of
her talents and education, Mae Jemison established a general practice.
She later worked as a Peace Corps Officer in Sierra Leone. She used her time there to teach and conduct medical research. In 1985, Mae Jemison returned to the United States and applied for the NASA astronaut training program, but faced a roadblock when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.
In 1987, she reapplied for the program and was one of fifteen chosen out of a field of two
thousand applicants. She was the first African American woman chosen to be a part of the
training program. Mae spent more than a year in the training program and became an astronaut,
which was accompanied by the title of science mission specialist.
This title garnered the responsibility of conducting crew-related scientific experiments on the space shuttle. In 1992, Mae Jemison flew into space aboard the Endeavour on mission STS-47. She and her crew spent eight days in space conducting experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness. Mae used herself and the crew as guinea pigs for the experiments.
On September 20, 1992, they returned and Mae became very famous for her achievements as the first African American woman in space. Following her return from space Mae received a plethora of awards and recognitions. In 1998, she received the Essence Science and Technology Award.
In 1990, she was named the Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year. In 1992, she won
the Ebony Black Achievement Award and The Mae C. Jemison Academy was named after her.
Between the years 1990 and 1992, she became a member of the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
She served on the Board of Directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation. She also became a
committee member of the American Express Geography Competition as well as a board
member of the center for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition. In 1993, she received a
Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College.
She also left the astronaut corps to establish the Jemison Group, a company that researches,
develops, and markets advanced technologies. Mae Jemison became a professor at Dartmouth College and started the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries. She later created The Earth We Share program, a science camp for girls ages twelve to sixteen, helping to improve problem-solving skills. Mae Jemison is a
trailblazer. She used her imagination to dream of a future that she later made a reality. By becoming the first African-American woman in space, Dr. Jemison opened doors for women of color at NASA forever. Dr. Mae C. Jemison, we stand on your shoulders.
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There is much debate about the origins of the game of hockey, when the first game was played, and where the first game was played. There is evidence of the game being played in England in the late 1700s, there is also evidence of the first organized game being played in Montreal, Canada in 1875. But there is no debate about the origins of the first hockey league in the Americas. The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHLM) was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1895. It was an all-black, all-male hockey league, started by four men named Pastor James Borden, James A. R Kinney, Henry Sylvester Williams, and James Robinson Johnston. The games were originally organized to help increase church attendance within the black communities of Nova Scotia. The growing popularity of the games led to the creation of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes, and the Dartmouth Jubilees were the league's first team. The league expanded from one team to three teams, then expanded to six teams that were known as the “original six,” the Africville Sea-Sides; the Truro Victorias; the Charlottetown West End Rangers; the Amherst Royals; and the Hammond Plains Moss Backs.
The CHLM’s origins are also tied to the game of baseball. Many of the league’s players also played baseball in the spring and some of the names of the teams came from the names of black baseball teams. When the weather was warmer the black men played baseball, when the winter came and the ponds were frozen they played hockey. The league played its games in the same arenas as the white hockey teams, but only when the white teams were not playing hockey, usually between January and March. The CHLM was a very structured league with a championship match season structure. Because of the short time frame between January and March, their season typically only lasted eight weeks. The rules and the structure of the league were based on principles from the bible, there was no official rule book. The CHLM built a reputation for its games being fast, aggressive, exciting, and cutting-edge. The black hockey players helped to make the game cutting-edge by introducing the slap shot, which was invented by a black man named Eddie Martin, and the goalie’s butterfly technique of falling to the ice to cover the puck was created by a black man named Henry "Braces" Franklyn. The CHLM was the most popular hockey league in Nova Scotia bringing in crowds of over 1,5oo spectators compared to the games that would have around 500 white spectators.
The height of the CHLM was during the early 1900s as the league expanded to 12 teams and its popularity was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, behind the scenes, the Halifax city officials and provincials were planning to annex the areas the CHLM used to play their games to build railroads. The plans eventually became public because of the disputes between the CHLM and the city of Halifax. The city began to conspire against the CHLM, newspapers that previously covered the games no longer covered the games, the rink owners no longer rented the rinks out so hockey games could be played. This forced the league to hold its games outdoors and eventually forced the league to fold in 1911. In 1920, the CHLM was reformed only for a 10 year period, before eventually ending for good. The National Hockey League was founded in 1917, and for a while was believed to be the first professional hockey league in the Americas, but as the history of the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritime was rediscovered its legacy is now being preserved. The book Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895 to 1925 was published by George and Darril Fosty in 2004. The book covers the details of the history of the CHLM. This story reminds me why it is important that we preserve and pass down our history and culture, so future generations don’t have to rediscover our history, we would already know who we are and what we did. To all the founders, players, and supporters of the CHLM, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward.
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On May 17, 1912, Mary Beatrice Davidson was born in Monroe, North Carolina, 30 minutes South of Charlotte, North Carolina. Her father was an inventor named Sidney Nathaniel Davidson, he patented the clothing press for a suitcase, a window washer for trains, and a stretcher with wheels for ambulances to better transport injured people. I do not have any information about Mary Kenner’s mother. Her paternal grandfather invented the pants presser, her maternal grandfather is said to be the original inventor of the light signal for trains. The genius to invent items to improve our everyday lives must run in the Davidson bloodline, because Mary Kenner’s sister, Mildred Davidson Austin Smith, invented board games, trademarked her games, and sold her games for a profit.
At the age of six, Kenner came up with the idea of the self-oiling door hinge, but the invention was never created. She was very young but wise and thoughtful enough to observe her surroundings and think of how she could improve people’s everyday lives. She would create more ideas for inventions as a child, such as the sponge tip to soak up the water running off of an umbrella, and a portable ashtray that attached to a cigarette carton. In 1924, Kenner’s family moved to Washington D.C. She would spend much of her time in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office learning about the system, how to patent inventions, and looking to see if someone else patented her inventions. Kenner graduated from Dunbar Highschool in 1931, her next step was enrolling at Howard University. She studied at Howard for three or four semesters before dropping out due to financial issues.
To support herself and her family, Kenner began working various jobs such as babysitting and working as an elevator operator. She worked where ever she could to earn money. In 1941, Kenner began working for the Census Bureau and General Accounting Office. This job allowed her to make more money, better support her family, and in her spare time create new inventions. Even though the bulk of her time was spent working to help her family, she never lost her passion to invent. In 1950, Kenner saved up enough money to quit her job and open up a florist shop. She had also become a professional florist. Her florist shop was successful and lasted for 20 years. In 1945, Kenner married a man who was a soldier in the U.S. Army, the couple divorced in 1950. Also In 1951, she married the famous boxer and founder of the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs of Washington, James “Jabbo” Kenner. The couple produced two sons Antonio and Woodrow.
In 1957, Kenner filed and acquired her first patent for her invention the sanitary belt. She originally created the belt as a teen but didn't have the money to file for the patent. The sanitary belt was designed to hold a woman’s sanitary pad in place preventing her menstrual fluids from escaping the pad. This is an invention she would make improvements to overtime. Kenner’s invention was becoming a very useful and popular tool for women at the time. Her invention was so popular that The Sonn-Nap-Pack Company was contacting her to make a business deal. The deal was revoked by The Soon-Nap-Pack Company because they discovered Kenner was a black woman. The use of the sanitary belt declined as the design for menstrual pads was improved upon and tampon was being used. But Kenner was not deterred.
In 1976, Kenner patented a walker attachment that included a tray to sit items on and pockets for carrying extra items. In 1982, Kenner and her sister collaborated to patent a toilet paper holder, and in 1987, Kenner patented a mounted back washer and massager; which was her last patent. On January 13, 2006, Mary Beatrice Kenner died at the age of 93. She was a very intelligent and driven woman. She was a visionary who used her imagination and ingenuity to bring her ideas to fruition. This story is a reminder of why it is important to cultivate the interest, skills, discipline, and imagination of your children because they could literally change the world. Mrs. Mary Beatrice Kenner, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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“Live Free or Die.” Were the last words of a pregnant woman fighting for her freedom against the French on the island of Guadeloupe.
Solitude was born in 1772, on the Island of Guadeloupe. Her mother was an enslaved African woman and her father was a French sailor who impregnated her mother by force. Solitude’s mother escaped enslavement but left Solitude on the plantation. Years passed, and Solitude grew into a very beautiful young lady. She was said to have beautiful brown skin and exquisite eyes, each was a different color. Men often fought each other for her affection. Solitude worked as a domestic slave cleaning and keeping her master's house tidy. It is believed that she was given domestic duties because of her beauty and skin complexion. She was called the Female Mulatto' because she was of mixed race.
In 1794, the French Empire abolished slavery, because the Haitian Revolution was successful, and they wanted to avoid further revolutions throughout the colonies. Solitude and many other enslaved Africans left their plantations to live in Maroon colonies in Guadeloupe and live on other Caribbean Islands. The Africans living within the French colonies were free of French enslavement and able to live their lives as free men and women, so they thought. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte became the de facto leader of the French Republic, and in 1802 Napolean reinstated slavery with the passing of the Law of 20 May 1802, which revoked the abolition of slavery in 1794.
Solitude and a large number of African people revolted against the reinstatement of slavery. Louis Delgrès was the leader of the revolt against Napoleon, and Solitude stood bravely by his side ready to defend her freedom. Solitude joined the fight even though she was pregnant. Before fighting the French, Delgrès released a message to his people; “To the whole universe, the last cry of innocence and despair”. The battles began in May of 1802. Pregnancy did not stop Solitude from excelling on the battlefield. She gained a reputation as a fierce fighter because she was able to help lead her troops deep into the French territory. She was a major contributor to many victories over the French troops.
Later in May of 1802, French General Richepance attacked a fort where Delgrès and other Maroons were occupied. The Maroons and the French battled for over 18 days at the Fort. Finally, on the 18th day, the Fort was bombed, Solitude survived the bombing but was injured, she was also captured by the French and jailed. Delgrès and several others died in the bombing. Solitude was jailed until she gave birth to her baby; which became the property of the French because she was no longer a free woman. A day after giving birth, Solitude was executed for her role in the revolt. One thing I learned about Solitude, she did not allow anything to stop her from achieving her goals. Neither pregnancy, the threat of enslavement, nor death, could stop Solitude from fighting for her freedom and the freedom of her people. “Live free or die,” are the last words Solitude spoke before she was executed. To the brave and beautiful Solitude of Guadeloupe, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
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During the 1730s, a young slave girl named Marie-Joseph Angelique would start a rebellion history would never forget. Angelique was the property of François Poulin of Montreal, Canada. Not much is known about the history of slavery in Canada. She was a slave girl who was being prepared to become a mating partner with a fellow slave. Angelique was a woman of sound mind and was resistant to the demands of her master. She was also engaged in a relationship with a white indentured servant named Claude Thibault from France.
On April 10, 1734, Angelique set fire to the home of her slave master. The fire quickly spread to other houses and businesses. The total damage was 46 buildings burned. One of the buildings was the famous L'Hôtel Dieu hospital. She was captured and brought to trial for the fire. The trial took two months, within that time Angelique was interrogated and tortured until she confessed to the fire. On June 21, 1734, Angelique was set to be executed by the authorities of Montreal. She was paraded through the streets by a rope, one end tied to her neck, and the other tied to a wagon.
They placed signs upon her back that read arsonist. She was forced to beg for mercy in front of the on-looking crowd, then one of her hands was cut off. She was hung in front of the crowd by a slave named Mathieu, then her body was burned and spread her ashes throughout the land. Slavery in Canada is greatly overlooked and understudied. It is a place where the Church frowned upon slavery, but in the case of Angelique, the Church conveniently turned a blind eye. She was killed because she stood up for her rights as a human being. Freedom was her goal and she gave her life to gain it. Marie-Joseph Angelique; we stand on your shoulders.
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http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marie_joseph_angelique_2E.html http://www.blackhistorypages.net/pages/mjangelique.php http://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/angelique/accueil/indexen.html
Nefertiti was an Egyptian woman born around 1390 BCE, who became the Queen of Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty. The name Nefertiti means "a beautiful woman has come," which was fitting because she was well known for her beauty. The identity of her parents is unknown and little is known about her early life. She became the wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV who would change his name to Akhenaten because they were followers of Aten. Nefertiti would take on a name change as well, she was known as “Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti” which means “Beautiful are the beauties of Aten, a beautiful woman has come.” Akhenaten made a radical change in converting his kingdom to the following of Aten.
Nefertiti was very instrumental in the ruling of Egypt alongside her husband. Akhenaten did not reject her opinions, he respected Nefertiti and her views. Nefertiti was often depicted with the crown of the Pharaoh upon her head, she can also be seen in battle with her husband. She was respected enough to become a member of the priesthood which gave offerings to Aten. It is stated that the Queen gave birth to six children as the wife of the Pharaoh. Unfortunately, not much is known about the Queen because historical records of her are minimal after 1360 BCE. It is said that internal strife existed within Akhenaten’s kingdom because of his change from the following of Amen-Ra to the following of Aten. I do not have any information about the death of Nefertiti because her death or disappearance is a myth. Many theories exist about the disappearance of Nefertiti, no one is quite certain as to what happened to the Queen. What we do know is she was depicted as a majestic, brilliant, beautiful ruler and wife. Queen Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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