Sir Arthur Lewis

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Sir Arthur Lewis (23 Jan 1915 – 15 June 1991)

Sir Lewis was born in St.Lucia and was raised by his mother after his father passed away at age 7. He excelled in school and finished school at the age of fourteen after being skipping 2 school years. He continued his academic achievements by earning his Bachelors (first class honors) and completing his scholarship funded Ph.D at the London School of Economics by the age of 25. He set a record by finishing first in his class with first class marks in 7 of 9 subject. He stayed at LSE before becoming a full-time lecturer at the University of Manchester at 33 years old. He developed important economic concepts and started to become known and sought after during the late 50’s when many former colonies started to gain independence from European countries. He was appointed as Ghana’s first economic advisor in 1957 and helped to draw up its Five-Year Plan (1959-1963). A few years after being appointed as Vice Chancellor of the University of West Indies in 1959, he was knighted for his efforts and contributions to economics. He spent over 20 years as a professor at Princeton University, during which, he was named as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank, as well as receiving the Nobel prize in Economics in 1979.

His other achievements include:
Member of the Colonial Advisory Economic Council
Committee for National Fuel in Britain
Managing Director of the United Nations Special Fund
First West Indian to head the University of the West Indies
Established the School of Engineering at University of the West Indies
Chancellor of the University of Guyana
Wrote 81 professional articles and 10 books

After his death in 1991, he continued to be remembered. The University of Manchester named a building after him in 2007, there is a college in his native St.Lucia named after him, and he is featured on the rear of the $100 Eastern Caribbean note.

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#stayinschoolkids

Pablo Fanque

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Pablo Fanque (28 Feb 1796 – 4 May 1871)

Even though there is much speculation about when he was born, many sources agree that William Darby was born in Norwich to an African-born father and English mother. He joined a circus as a horse rider and rope walker and became known by his stage name of Pablo Fanque. His performances in 1847 was very successful, with The Illustrated London News raving about this ‘artiste of colour’ and his ‘extraordinary horse training skills’. The circus historian George Speight said that ‘by his own industry and talent, he got together as fine a stud of horses and ponies as any in England’. He even performed in front of Queen Victoria in his run at London’s Astley’s Amphitheatre as well as employing Elizabeth Sylvester who was Britain’s first female clown. He went on from there to operate his own circus for 30 years, during which time he toured extensively through England, as well as Ireland and Scotland. Even the legendary Jem Mace toured with Fanque in 1861. His circus’ were regarded as the most popular in Victorian Britain for 30 years in spite of the fact that he was the first non-white circus proprietor in Britain.

It’s entirely normal to see reference to his African heritage, but unusual to see a Black man in such a prominent position in the entertainment industry not as a performer, but as a businessman. And well-respected at that. A quote in the Blackburn Mercury reads as follows:

I am sure that the friends of temperance and morality are deeply indebted to him for the perfectly innocent recreation which he has afforded to our population, by which I am sure hundreds have been prevented from spending their money in revelling and drunkenness

He seems to be one of the earliest examples of prominent Black entertainers in the Western world along with Ira Aldridge, who performed in London as an actor as early as 1825, albeit as a slave named Oroonoko in The Revolt of Surinam. Unfortunately, his wife died as a result of a structural accident at a show, and Fanque himself died penniless. His story becomes more incredible when noted that a funeral procession, band and four coaches and mourners marched ahead of his coffin when he died.  On their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, the Beatles pay homage to Fanque by mentioning him in a song entitled Being for the Benefit of Mr.Kite!

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Toussaint L’Ouverture

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Toussaint L’Ouverture (20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803)

The Atlantic Slave Trade lasted from around the 16th century through to the 19th century. Although much emphasis is placed on the efforts people like Rosa Parks, Olaudah Equiano and Marcus Garvey who helped to end not only slavery, but bring equality, there were people and events which preceded some of the most courageous people celebrated in Black History.
There were the Maroons in Jamaica, led by Nanny, who was born of the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, who helped to free slaves and took control over much of the hilly inlands of Jamaica. Marcos Xiorro was an African slave who led a revolution in 1821 in Puerto Rico. There were also a few different slave revolutions in Mâle, Brazil in 1835. Arguably the most successful slave rebellion in the Americas was led by a man named Toussaint L’Ouverture.

L’Ouverture was born in the country then called Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and was freed from slavery at the age of 33 in 1776. He continued to work but was able to acquire property and some wealth, due to his increased responsibilities as a driver and work force organiser. When the revolution began in 1791, he was placed in charge of a small band of rebels and negotiated with the French Governor to stop the use of whips, and an extra non working day amongst other things. These demands were not met, and the rebels started to increase their alliance with the Spanish. After many years of fighting and treaties with Britain and the US in 1798, L’Ouverture was captured, sent to France and died in 1803, a year before Haiti declared independence and abolished slavery.

These achievements are not to be taken lightly. Haiti was the wealthiest of all the Caribbean colonies in 1789, producing 60% of the world’s coffee and 40% of the worlds sugar. Haiti gained its independence almost 160 years before other Caribbean islands like Guyana and Barbados. In other words, this was not a colony which had no significance. How then has Haiti, along with other Caribbean islands with vast resources, become so poor in the 200 years since independence? It seems as though the UK, France and Spain continue to benefit, almost as though independence and the abolition of slavery signalled a change of oppression rather than an end to it. Has slavery ever really ended?

A World Without Black People

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This is a story of a little boy name Theo, who woke up one morning and asked his mother, “Mom, what if there were no Black people in the world?” Well, his mother thought about that for a moment, and then said, “Son, follow me around today and let’s just see what it would be like if there were no Black people in the world.” Mom said, “Now go get dressed, and we will get started.”

Theo ran to his room to put on his clothes and shoes. His mother took one look at him and said, “Theo, where are your shoes? And those clothes are all wrinkled, son. I must iron them.” However, when she reached for the ironing board, it was no longer there.

You see Sarah Boone, a black woman, invented the ironing board, and Jan E. Matzelinger, a black man, invented the shoe lasting machine.

“Oh well,” she said, “please go and do something to your hair.” Theo ran in his room to comb his hair, but the comb was not there. You see, Walter Sammons, a black man, invented the comb.

Theo decided to just brush his hair, but the brush was gone. You see Lydia O. Newman, a black female, invented the brush.

Well, this was a sight: no shoes, wrinkled clothes, hair a mess. Even Mom’s hair, without the hair care inventions of Madam C. Walker, well, you get the picture.

Mom told Theo, “Let’s do our chores around the house and then take a trip to the grocery store.” Theo’s job was to sweep the floor. He swept and swept and swept. When he reached for the dustpan, it was not there. You see, Lloyd P. Ray, a black man, invented the dustpan.

So he swept his pile of dirt over in the corner and left it there. He then decided to mop the floor, but the mop was gone. You see, Thomas W. Stewart, a black man, invented the mop. Theo yelled to his Mom, “Mom, I’m not having any luck.”

“Well, son,” she said, “Let me finish washing these clothes, and we will prepare a list for the grocery store.” When the wash finished, she went to place the clothes in the dryer, but it was not there. You see, George T. Samon, a black man, invented the clothes dryer.

Mom asked Theo to go get a pencil and some paper to prepare their list for the market. So, Theo ran for the paper and pencil but noticed the pencil lead was broken. Well, he was out of luck because John Love, a black man, invented the pencil sharpener.

Mom reached for a pen, but it was not there because William Purvis, a black man, invented the fountain pen.

As a matter of fact, Lee Burridge invented the typewriting machine and W. A. Lovette the advanced printing press. Theo and his mother decided just to head out to the market.

Well, when Theo opened the door, he noticed the grass was as high as he was tall. You see, John Burr, a black man, invented the lawn mower. They made their way over to the car and found that it just wouldn’t go. You see, Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, and Joseph Gammel invented the supercharge system for internal combustion engines. They also noticed that the few cars that were moving were running into each other and having wrecks because there were no traffic signals. You see, Garrett A. Morgan, a black man invented the traffic light.

Well, it was getting late, so they walked to the market, got their groceries, and returned home. Just when they were about to put away the milk, eggs, and butter, they noticed the refrigerator was gone. You see John Standard, a black man, invented the refrigerator. So, they just left the food on the counter.

By this time, Theo noticed he was getting mighty cold. Mom went to turn up the heat, and what do you know? Alice Parker, a black female, invented the heating furnace. Even in the summertime, they would have been out of luck because Frederick Jones, a black man, invented the air conditioner.

It was almost time for Theo’s father to arrive home. He usually takes the bus, but there was no bus, because its precursor was the electric trolley, invented by another black man, Elbert R. Robinson.

He usually takes the elevator from his office on the 20th floor, but there was no elevator because Alexander Miles, a black man, invented the elevator.

He also usually dropped off the office mail at a near by mailbox, but it was no longer there because Philip Downing, a black man, invented the letter drop mailbox, and William Barry invented the postmarking and canceling machine.

Theo and his mother sat at the kitchen table with their heads in their hands. When the father arrived, he asked, “Why are you sitting in the dark?” Why? Because Lewis Howard Latimer, a black man, invented the filament within the light bulb.

Theo quickly learned more about what it would be like if there were no black people in the world, especially if he were ever sick and needed blood. Dr. Charles Drew, a black scientist, found a way to preserve and store blood, which led to his starting the world’s first blood bank.

Well, what if a family member had to have heart surgery? This would not have been possible without Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a black doctor, who performed the first open-heart surgery.

So, if you ever wonder, like Theo, where would we be without black people? Well, it’s pretty plain to see. We would still be in the DARK!

– Author Unknown

 

Saartjie Baartman

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Saartjie Baartman (c.1789 – 29 Dec 1815)

Taken from her homeland of the Gamtoos Valley in South Africa, Saartjie was taken to London and spent four years being exhibited in around Britian. She was exhibited for people to look at and stare, like the sub-human they all thought she was. The recent Human oo attraction at The Barbican would have included an actress displayed like the picture above; a tribute to a woman who, like many others in the 19th century, were degraded in similar fashion. Others like Ota Benga (a pygmy from the Congo) and Abraham Ulrikab (an Inuk from Labrador) were taken from their homeland and displayed to members of the paying public.

She was displayed because of her ‘unusual’ bodily features. Her large buttocks and elongated labia were of great curiositiy to scientists, as well as her jaw structure, the shape of her nose and chin. After her death, her cadaver was dissected and the results published by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville who likened certain features to that of an orangutan. The measuring and comparisons of her face no doubt contributed to Ernst Rüdin’s justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany and have their root in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which was turned into eugenics by his half cousin Sir Francis Galton.

Despite the atrocities of WWII, the civil rights movement and even Womens Suffrage, Saartjie’s genitals, brain and skeleton were on display in Paris’ Musée de l’Homme up until 1974. A cast of her body was removed in 1976.
Given this sad story, the way she was exhibited and is rumoured to have prostituted herself while living in Paris in poverty, it’s no wonder that certain singers and entertainers have come under criticism for how they portray themselves. Are they just an extention of Saartjie? Or are they merely expressing their sexuality in today’s liberal society?

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Lord Kitchener

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Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts)  (18 April 1922 – 11 Feb 2000)

Even as the Trinidadian Lord Kitchener stepped off the Empire Windrush in 1948, he was singing the song he wrote on the famous boat, ‘London is the place for me’. Kitch brought a twist to the calypso that already existed in London, with the likes of Sam Manning and Rudolph Dunbar already plying their trade in the capital. The difference was, that fresh from his 6 month tour of Jamaica, he was already adapting his music to his surroundings.

London is the place for me
London, this lovely city
You can go to France or America
India Asia or Australia,But you must come back to London city.

Kitch’s lyrics, instead of conforming to the norm and singing for pure entertainment, he took Calypso’s original meaning (coming from the word ‘kaiso’ in the Hausa language) by acting as a contemporary griot, commenting on social events and criticism of government. he wrote songs such as Cricket, Lovely Cricket to celebrate the West Indies beating England in 1950, My Landlady which spoke about struggles to pay rent, and If You’re Not White, You’re Black.

Your Negro hair is obvious,
You make it more conspicuous,
You use all sort of Vaseline,
To make out you are European…

He also commemorated Ghana’s Independence with the song Birth Of Ghana:

This day will never be forgotten,
The 6th of March 1957,
When the Gold Coast successfully,
Get their independence officially,
Ghana…

He also paid homage to some of the bebop artists of the day on Bebop Calypso and the jovial Love in the Cemetery. His most successfully commercial song was Sugar Bum Bum which was written in 1978. He made some of the funniest, introspective and historically significant calypso of his time, and had an influence on Ghanaian highlife music due to his tours there, and won many awards in his native Trinidad all the way into the 90’s.

Aunt Jemima

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Many people know and love Aunt Jemima Pancake mix , but the history behind the brand and others like Uncle Ben, is a little less known.

The figure of Aunt Jemima is one that began with caricatures of African women namely Saartji Baartman, and was popularised through minstrel shows, memorabilia and even cartoons. Ne t time you watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the large Black woman who screams and lifts up her many colourful frocks is just that. A ‘mammy’.
Like Aunt Chloe in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a mammy was a jolly, head tie wearing, illiterate, overweight motherly black slave who would perform much of the childcare duties of a household or plantation. She’ll cook for you, wash your clothes, clean your mess and do it all with a smile and a song. Together with the archetypal submissive and exaggerated language, the mammy archetype helped to form the basis of many people’s attitudes to Black women in the early 20th century. The first Black person to win an Oscar went to Hattie McDaniels in 1939 whose character in Gone With the Wind was actually called Mammy.

The Aunt Jemima which is advertised today is slightly different. She has been given earrings and hair, but bares the same wide thick red lipped smile and dark complexion which was a feature of minstrels the minstrels in the 1800’s. The figure of Uncle Ben falls under the same category, the submissive older Black servant, ready to serve you that good southern cooking. Uncle Ben is more closely associated with the term Uncle Tom, or someone who will say or do anything to find favor with White people.

Are they good logos? Or  throwbacks to minstral shows? Racist? Acceptable? Maybe. Money making? Obviously.

 

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#spotthedifference

Emmett Till

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Emmett Till (25 July 1941 – 28 Aug 1955)

Perhaps it was it because he was from Chicago. He lived in a fairly integrated neighbourhood, where he attended an integrated school. Perhaps he didn’t heed the warnings of his mother that Mississippi and Chicago were two very different places. Perhaps because he didn’t know any better; he was only 14 after all.

Emmett Till was 14 when he allegedly whistled at a White woman in Mississippi at a grocery store. As a result, he was taken from his great-uncles house by 3 men in the early hours of the morning, beaten, shot in the head and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. His unrecognisable body was found three days later. He was only 14.

At his funeral in Chicago was attended by tens of thousands of people, who filed past his open casket after his mother said, ‘There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. I just wanted the world to see’.
The act of showing the world, incensed not only Black, but White America, which showed the differing attitudes of the North and the South. The trail of the perpetrators (Bryant and Milam), lasted for 5 days and acquitted the two men, in spite of the fact that they admitted to taking Till and witnesses testified to having seen Milam enter a shed and hearing blows and screams. The jury later admitted that they thought the men were guilty, but didn’t feel as though life in prison or the death penalty was punishment befitting a crime; two Whites killing a Black man. But he wasn’t a man. He was 14 years old. Bryant and Milam confessed to killing Emmet in January 1956 but they never served time in jail, and both died of cancer in their 60’s.

 The story of Emmett had an effect on one Rosa Parks, as she refused to get off her seat and move to the back of the bus 4 months later. She said ‘I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back’.

#14yearsold

Jim Brown

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Jim Brown (17th Feb 1939 – )

Jim Brown is best known for his 9 year stint playing Fullback for the Cleveland Browns, in which he set numerous records. In addition to being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, he was also elected to the Lacrosse and College Hall of Fame. His list of accolades is staggering, including being a 9x Pro Bowl selection, 4 time NFL MVP, and having his number #32 jersey retired by the Browns. Even though he retired in 1965, he still holds NFL and Cleveland Brown records, including never missing a game for his whole career. As Richard Pryor once said, ‘Now they got m***********s that get hurt in practice’. Richard Pryor often spoke about Jim Brown being one of the people who was there for him during his darkest days being addicted to drugs.

Brown appears in many movies including 100 Rifles alongside Burt Reynolds, which was one of the first films to feature an interracial love scene. He also appears in Mars Attacks!, Any Given Sunday, and The Dirty Dozen. He was also the subject of a movie by Spike Lee entitled Jim Brown: All-American.

Brown was on the of the first and most successful Black NFL stars but didn’t shy away from the issues of race in the 1960’s. He helped to develop the BEU (Black Economic Union) and organised a summit, held in 1964 of some of the top Black Athletes, promoters. He, along with Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, stood behind Muhammad Alis refusal to fight in Vietnam. Brown formed a strong bond between himself, Ali, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X during the 1960’s, before Malcolm and Cooke were assassinated and killed in suspicious circumstances respectively.

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First row – Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul Jabbar

When watching Jim Browns game tape, you see a Black athlete, running through defensive lines with strength and purpose – a fitting metaphor for his strength and purpose during the African-American Civil Rights movement.

#strengthandpurpose

Gabby Douglas

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Gabby Douglas (31 Dec 1995 – )

Gabby Douglas made history a few years ago at the tender age of 16, as she won the team all-around gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and the first Black woman to win gold in the individual all-round category. She was also featured on the cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated Olympic Preview edition with her teammates (nicknamed the Fierce Five), which was the first time a gymnastics team had been featured on the front of the magazine. She also was featured on one of the 5 Time magazine Olympic edition covers. She has gone on to feature as part of an ad campaign for New Super Marios Bro.2, introduced Alicia Keys on stage at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, and had the dubious honour of performing with Nicki Minaj at the same awards ceremony. She has also won 2 BET awards, and the Associated press Female Athlete of the Year 2012.

There was much debate about Gabbys hair after she won her gold medal by many who believed that her hair should have been more presentable. Martin Luther King Jrs famous speech didn’t include:

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character and whether or not their hair is on point’

It was so sad that Black people were spending so much time discussing this ‘issue’, and also interesting that White media was perpetuating these discussions by printing and devoting so much air time to Weave vs Natural hair debates.

Gabbys achievements no doubt gave hope to many young Black girls out there who could finally see a Black girl on top of the world, in a discipline which had been dominated by those who, chances are, didn’t care about Gabbys hair at all.

#muchadoaboutnothing