Civil Rights Activist

‘Black women have been, and continue to be, integral in imagining a world where liberation isn’t the goal; it’s the default’.

Writer, activist and educator Altheia Jones-Lacointe is one of the great British Black activists and civil rights worker, and yet this name is hardly known amongst the Black community.

As Danialle Dash states in her article in the Stylist magazine:

“we should all know Dr Altheia Jones-LeCointe. In a perfect world, the British Black Panther (BBP) leader and community organiser would come to mind as easily as Angela Davis and other famous resistance leaders”. 

Born Altheia Jones in Trinidad, she was one of the three daughters of Viola Jones, a Port of Spain dressmaker and clothes shop proprietor, and Dunstan Jones, the principal of a government school.

While studying in London, Jones-LeCointe became involved in community organising against racism and for the rights of people of African and Asian heritage in the UK. In London, she became concerned with the mistreatment of black and Asian people by the authorities and worked as a teacher and organiser in the Universal Coloured Peoples’ Association (UCPA).

Danielle Dash’s great piece goes on to explore her ‘White Washing’ from British history:

“Britain’s contribution to global structural racism and the suppression of Black liberation efforts leads to the erasure of important historical figures like Jones-LeCointe. The combination of her race and her gender make it easier for history to forget the important work Jones-LeCointe did to advance anti-racism legislation – not only for black people, but specifically for Black women”.

Having risen to leadership of the BPP after its founder Obi Egbuna the playwright/poet was jailed, Altheia Jones-LeCointe organised marches to show the world how UK police were brutalising British Blacks, especially at the Black-owned Mangrove restaurant

She became the brains behind – the BPP movement. She re-energised the group, and her position created much-needed visibility for Black women. 

Her name rightly rose to prominence again with the release of Steve McQeen’s Small Axe series of films, featuring the Mangrove Nine.  Of the nine, only Jones-LeCointe and the late Darcus Howe (blog soon) made the decision to represent themselves in court. She wasn’t a lawyer, but she bravely faced the British legal system. Undoubtedly her defiance was just too powerful – she was charged with ‘conspiracy to incite a riot’.

They demanded to be judged by a ‘jury of peers’ — all Black jurors. Only two Black jurors were selected. They called more than 100 witnesses who spoke candidly about being terrorised by the police, cross-examined police officers, and asked their witnesses about their definition of ‘Black power’.

The judge’s closing statement put the nail in the police department’s case, saying, in part:

“What this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides.”

Though, of course, the British Black Panthers in actuality could not be deemed racist, the statement was the first acknowledgement that Britain’s police officers targeted Black citizens.

The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove read:

“This protest is necessary as all other methods have failed to bring about any change in the manner the police have chosen to deal with Black people.”

Dash points out:

That in 1970, Jones-LeCointe organised a demonstration to protest police mistreatment of The Mangrove. The demonstration was vastly over-policed, with 200 officers deployed for 150 demonstrators, and violence erupted. Jones-LeCointe was arrested along with eight others, who collectively became known as the Mangrove Nine.

Their aim was to tackle head-on the prejudice that had seen the national press depict their civil rights movement as nothing more than a violent gang of troublemakers. After what was at the time the longest trial in British history, the Mangrove Nine walked free, with the presiding magistrate Judge Clarke acknowledging ‘police wrongdoing and racial prejudice’.

The BPP movement worried authorities on both sides of the Atlantic, Jones-LeCointe was now a permanent target of the police, and government, her historical importance needed to be erased, not just by White but also some Black historians.

Despite Jones-LeCointe’s revolutionary work, her story was ignored when the time came to tell the story of British Black people’s contribution to the Black liberation movement.  The disgraceful TV series Guerrille supposedly about Mangrove basically told women who look like Jones-LeCointe that it doesn’t matter what our achievements are: we are not worthy of starring in our own stories if we don’t have a proximity to Whiteness.

Dash adds:

“Society regularly forgets black women exist – going so far as erasing us and our contributions from history. That’s exactly what happened with Jones-LeCointe’s representation on screen”.

A final point Danielle Dash makes in her article I believe speaks for all Black women:

“I admire and am thankful to Dr Altheia Jones-LeCointe because she did the work of dismantling the racist patriarchy at a time when doing so jeopardised her freedom. She paved the way for black women like me, who look the way we do and have the voices we have. She showed us it was possible to stand up to oppression – and succeed”. 

Despite the record of LeCointe and others, all Black women activists, faced an uphill battle to not only be taken seriously as activists but to be given their due credit.

All of these women understood that a fight for liberation remains bigger than the individual; the fight for freedom is a collective effort. As we stated at the beginning, Black women have been, and continue to be, integral in imagining a world where liberation isn’t the goal; it’s the default.

Actress Letitia Wright talks about her Small Axe role: 4.02m

Mangrove Nine Documentary 1970: 11.50m

When we view the Black Lives Matter situation today we know that we cannot change history. Cornish people should never bury their past but look to their links to the Slave Trade, and in particular in Jamaica, as a new future with friends.

Descendants of slaves are as linked to the sea like the Cornish. One of the Jamaican counties is called Cornwall and its main port is Falmouth, they even eat a version of the Cornish Pasty called the Jamaican Patty and it’s these culinary delights are what I’m going to focus on in this blog.

The Cornish Pastie traveled with the Cornish sailors to Jamaica and became adapted over time to include local ingredients, and to suit the tastes and palate of the people, eventually developing into the Jamaican Patty’s of today. The Chinese and Indian influences in the spices came from indentured workers who travelled to the Caribbean to work following the abolition of slavery. The Jamaica Patty is a product of colonialism and migration developed after the introduction of the Cornish Pasty in the Caribbean.

The Jamaican Patty

The Jamaican Patty is a derivative of the Cornish Pasty. In the 17th Century many Cornish ships and sailors were involved in the triangle of routes between England, West Africa and the Caribbean for the trade in spices, slaves and sugar etc. As we mentioned above, this is still reflected today in Jamaican place names such as Cornwall County, Falmouth, and Trelawney Parish. Like the Cornish Pasty it has now been around for a few hundred years.

The Cornish Pasty travelled with the Cornish sailors to Jamaica and became adapted over time to include local ingredients, and to suit the tastes and palate of the people, eventually developing into the Jamaican Patties of today. Using the idea of the pasty from the Cornish,  Jamaicans also used  curry spice from the east Indians, who also migrated into Jamaica,  and cumin from slaves in order to  development of the beef patty.  Not only does the cumin and curry give the patty a distinct taste and spicy taste, the curry also gives the patty its golden colour. Cornish miners ate Pasty’s while they worked because of their small size and convenience which made it the perfect go-to food. These Pasty’s have evolved into what we have today. The Chinese and Indian influences in the spices came from indentured workers who travelled to the Caribbean to work following the abolition of slavery.

The Patty spread around the world, probably first in the USA and Canada, from the 50’s in Britain it became a popular snack especially in cities like Birmingham and Manchester with large West Indian populations.The Patty is now the commonest form of street or snack food in Jamaica, available from the smallest street vendor or market stall, right up to large dedicated chains of takeaway shops and restaurants.

Jamaican Patty (or occasionally Jamaican Puff) is now a generic description within the bakery trade, much like the Cornish Pasty, French stick, Swiss roll, or Danish pastry. Patty’s are manufactured and sold across the world by many different companies. Even within Jamaica itself there are many different makers, all with their own recipes and variations on pastry and fillings, as with the Cornish Pasty, so there is no single definitive recipe or ingredient, however Scotch Bonnet chilli and the pastry colour identify the Patty uniquely.

The Cornish Pasty

It is believed that the Cornish Pasty originated:

The pasty has been a documented part of the British diet since the 13th Century, at this time being devoured by the rich upper classes and royalty. The fillings were varied and rich; venison, beef, lamb and seafood like eels, flavoured with rich gravies and fruits. It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the pasty was adopted by miners and farm workers in Cornwall as a means for providing themselves with easy, tasty and sustaining meals while they worked. And so the humble Cornish Pasty was born.

The wives of Cornish tin miners would lovingly prepare these all-in-one meals to provide sustenance for their spouses during their gruelling days down the dark, damp mines, working at such depths it wasn’t possible for them to surface at lunchtime. A typical pasty is simply a filling of choice sealed within a circle of pastry, one edge crimped into a thick crust . A good pasty could survive being dropped down a mine shaft! The crust served as a means of holding the pasty with dirty hands without contaminating the meal. Arsenic commonly accompanies tin within the ore that they were mining so, to avoid arsenic poisoning in particular, it was an essential part of the pasty.

Historic UK The Cornish Pasty

There’s a letter in existence from a baker to Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour (1510-1537) saying:

‘…hope this pasty reaches you in better condition than the last one…’

And so the humble Cornish Pasty was born. Cornish Pasty’s developed as portable lunches for tin miners, fishermen and farmers to take to work.

Housewives used to make one for each member of the household and mark their initials on one end of the pasty. The miners carried their pasties to work in a tin bucket which they heated by burning a candle underneath. They threw away the oggies’ thick, wide pastry edges after eating the rest of their meal, to avoid being poisoned by tin or copper dust from their fingers.

A typical Pasty is simply a filling of choice sealed within a circle of Pastry, one edge crimped into a thick crust. A good pasty could survive being dropped down a mine shaft! The crust served as a means of holding the pasty with dirty hands without contaminating the meal. Arsenic commonly accompanies tin within the ore that they were mining so, to avoid arsenic poisoning in particular, it was an essential part of the Pasty.

The traditional recipe for the pasty filling is beef with potato, onion and swede, which when cooked together forms a rich gravy, all sealed in its own packet! As meat was much more expensive in the 17th and 18th centuries, its presence was scarce and so pasties traditionally contained much more vegetable than today. The presence of carrot in a pasty, although common now, was originally the mark of an inferior pasty.

Long ago, Cornish miners shouted ‘Oggie Oggie, Tiddy Oggie’ in unison at crib (meal) time, before eating their traditional Pasty’s, also known as oggies (or tiddy oggies).

When excited spectators shouted ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie!’ in chorus at Sydney’s Olympic Games, they unknowingly boosted the worldwide popularity of that ubiquitous but peculiar British dish, the Cornish Pasty.

To conclude let us put the cat amongst the pigeons:

This I hope will create some decent debate. For me the Jamaican Patty is a far superior beast, mixed with cumin and curry seasonings (of Indian labourers) and cayenne pepper (from African labourers) who settled in Jamaica and the firecracker taste of the Scotch bonnet, a hot pepper indigenous to Jamaica, sealed the flavour, this is a taste explosion to die for, in many ways the Cornish Pasty is, dare I say, a bit dull by comparison.

My current home is in Falmouth, Cornwall and I’ve eaten my fair share of Cornish Pasty’s, however ‘my ansums’ the Jamaican Patty beats it by a country mile.

As a footnote it’s time that Falmouth, Cornwall and Falmouth Jamaica set up some mutual twinning exchanges and got together like genuine brothers and sisters.

Recipe for the Jamaican Beef Patty

INGREDIENTS

For the pastry:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Jamaican)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons cold water or as needed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

For the Jamaican Patty:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chile stemmed, seeded, and minced (wear gloves!)
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (preferably Jamaican)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal brand; if using another brand, start with half this amount and add more to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef
  • ¾ cup dried breadcrumbs
  • ¾ cup beef broth or water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. To make the filling, heat the oil in a large, preferably nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, chile, curry powder, salt, thyme, and allspice, and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the ground beef and use the edge of a wooden spoon to break it into pieces. Continue to cook until all the beef is cooked through, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn or stick. Add the breadcrumbs, stir to combine, then add the broth or water and mix until absorbed. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool.
  2. To make the dough, stir together the flour, curry powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture. Using your fingers, or a pastry blender if you have one, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend). If using your fingers, just rub the mixture together, but don’t overwork the mixture or the butter will get too warm and soften too much.
  3. Sprinkle in about ½ cup of the cold water and gently mix it into the flour with your fingers or a plastic bowl scraper or spatula. Do not overwork the dough. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water, or more as needed until the dough just comes together into a ball.
  4. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, each weighing approximately 1 ½ ounces. Roll each ball between your palms to smooth it out. At this point you can chill the balls of dough for a few minutes if they feel too soft.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.
  6. One at a time, place a ball of dough on a lightly floured surface, press your palm into a ball of dough to begin to flatten it, then use a rolling pin to roll it out evenly into circle about 5-inches in diameter. They may not be perfect circles, but that’s ok.
  7. Evenly distribute the beef filling between the dough circles. Don’t be too stingy, it will seem like a lot of filling, but you can press and compact the filling a bit to make sure you fill them generously. One-by-one fold over the dough and pinch the edges to enclose the filling. Use the tines of a fork to press along the edges to seal.
  8. Place the sealed beef patties onto the parchment-lined baking sheets, then chill the sheets in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to help set the dough (it will bake up flakier if you don’t skip this step).
  9. Evenly brush the tops of the patties with egg wash, and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Recipe for the Traditional Cornish Pasty

INGREDIENTS

For the Pastry:

  • 3 1/2 cups (450 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 ounces (140 grams) unsalted butter , very cold, diced
  • 5 ounces (140 grams) lard , very cold
  • How to Render Lard (click link to learn how to make it yourself. It’s super easy and much cheaper than store-bought!)
  • 2/3 cup (155 ml) ice cold water

For the Cornish Pasty’s:

  • 1 pound (450 grams) beef skirt steak or sirloin , cut into small cubes
  • 1 pound (450 grams) firm, waxy potato , peeled and diced in 1/4 inch cubes, or slice them according to personal preference (**starchy potatoes will disintegrate and turn mushy so be sure to use a firm, waxy potato that will hold its shape)
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) rutabaga , peeled and diced in 1/4 inch cubes, or slice them according to personal preference
  • 7 ounces (195 grams) yellow onion , chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • unsalted butter (for cutting in slices to lay inside the pasties)
  • all-purpose flour (for sprinkling inside the pasties)
  • 1 large egg , lightly beaten

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. To Make the Shortcrust Pastry: Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times until combined. Add the cold butter and lard and pulse a few more times until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water a little at a time, pulsing between additions, until the mixture begins to come together. DO NOT over-mix the dough or the pastry crust will be tough and won’t be flaky. Form the dough into a ball, flatten into a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before using (this is crucial). (Can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for up to 3 months.)
  2. To Make the Cornish Pasties:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll the pastry dough into a log and cut it into 6 equal pieces. Wrap and keep the other 5 pieces chilled in the fridge while you’re working on one at a time. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to a 8 inch circle that’s about 1/8 inch thick. You can use an 8-inch plate as your guide and cut the dough around it to form your circle.

  • Layer the filling (see note at end): Put layer of potatoes down the center of the pastry circle, leaving about 3/4 inch space on the top and bottom edges of the pastry dough. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Next add a layer of rutabagas, onions and finally the beef, adding a light sprinkling of salt and pepper between each layer. Lay a couple pats of butter on top of the beef and sprinkle a little flour over the filling.
  • Wet the tips of your fingers and lightly moisten the edges of the pastry dough. For this next part work gently so that the filling doesn’t puncture through the dough.  If this happens, patch up the hole with some of the scrap pieces of pastry dough.  Bring the sides up and seal the pasty down the middle. Turn the pasty onto its side and crimp the edges in traditional Cornish fashion (see blog post pictures as a visual).
  • Assemble the remaining pasties and lay them on a lined baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut a slit in the center of each pasty. Lightly brush each pasty with the beaten egg mixture.
  • Bake the Cornish pasties on the middle rack for 40-50 minutes until golden in colour. Remove from the oven and let them sit for about 10 minutes (they will be very hot inside) before eating.

200 years since his death, should the French be commemorating a man who was a warmonger and re-introduced slavery to French areas? Should they commemorate a man who brutally tried to re-establish slavery in Haiti in his attempts to put down a slave revolt?

This argument has opened up a deep debate and historical divisions in France. As you can guess the left see him as a dictator and despot and the right admire his French Empire ambitions, giving the country national pride and greatness.

There is a vast amount of information on the web about Napoléon and his countless wars ranging over 50 years so I have no intention of covering that in this blog. We are here to talk yet again about someone who committed atrocities against Black people and who he saw as less than human.

So just a brief over view of the man who created the model for modern military despotism. Napoléon was originally a republican and professed to stand for the people, and yet he murdered his enemies, made himself Emperor and created heirs, a bit like our royal family. At the end of all the warring it was stated in the palace of Fontainebleau, 11th April 1814:

“The Allied Powers having declared that Emperor Napoléon was the sole obstacle to the restoration of peace in Europe, Emperor Napoléon, faithful to his oath, declares that he renounces, for himself and his heirs, the thrones of France and Italy, and that there is no personal sacrifice, even that of his life, which he is not ready to make in the interests of France”.

As they say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We are however here to talk about Black History and his brutal repression of Black slaves. The celebrations in France are driven by President Emmanuel Macron and the right (I think Macron sees himself by association as a great leader). Even the Guardian Newspaper (also 200 years old) leads with the headline ‘Cruel despot or wise reformer?’ At least they put a question mark.

The Slaves Who Defeated Napoléon: The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804)

When information of the French Revolution (which coincidently also began on 5th May in 1789), filtered through to Haiti, it was the beginning of many uprisings against the French. On the night of August 21st 1791, slave representatives from all over Haiti’s northern plain, the rich area surrounding Cap Français, gathered in Bois Caiman (Gator Wood) near Morne Rouge. It was said that the air was dark, hot, and Fiery; a tropical storm rumbled on the horizon. One slave after another emerged from the shadows, scared and thrilled.

They were not allowed to sneak out of their quarters at night, and they knew that slave gatherings were strictly prohibited. With the onset of the French Revolution, rumors swirled among the planters that the Paris-based Société des Amis des Noirs had sent secret agents to Saint-Domingue to incite the slaves to revolt. Anyone accused of furmenting an uprising would likely meet an untimely, and gruesome, end.

The French Revolution climaxed in 1799 and new hopes of freedom started, and so also began Napoléon’s reign.

For a few months, the island was quiet under Napoleonic rule. While Napoléon Bonaparte condemned the slave trade, he had no strong opposition to slavery, he did not see Black people as having the same human rights as White Europeans.

Like most of his European contemporaries, Napoléon was a racist. He referred to Bedouins, native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Africans as “savages” – a term he also applied to Cossacks.

He treated the Saint-Domingue-born mixed-race general Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (father and grandfather of the writers of the same name) with contempt. At the same time, he welcomed mixed-race men into his army in Egypt, and for the expedition to Saint-Domingue (Haiti).

Napoléon based his policies towards slavery on pragmatism and genetic superiority. He favoured whatever would most benefit him and France.

When it became apparent that the French intended to re-establish slavery (because they had nearly done so on Gaudeloupe), black cultivators revolted in the summer of 1802.

When insurrection broke out in Saint-Domingue, Napoléon argued that France should renew its commitment to emancipation, because:

“this island would go for England if the blacks were not attached to us by their interest in liberty…. They will produce less sugar, maybe, than they did as slaves; but they will produce it for us, and will serve us, if we need them, as soldiers. We will have one less sugar mill; but we will have one more citadel filled with friendly soldiers”.

Yellow fever had decimated the French; by the middle of July 1802, the French lost about 10,000 dead to yellow fever. By September, Leclerc wrote in his diary that he had only 8,000 fit men left as yellow fever had killed the others. In 1802, Napoléon added a Polish legion of around 5,200 to the forces sent to Saint-Domingue to fight off the slave rebellion.

However, the Poles were told that there was a revolt of prisoners in Saint-Domingue. Upon arrival and the first fights, the Polish platoon soon discovered that what was actually taking place in the colony was a rebellion of slaves fighting off their French masters for their freedom. 

During this time, there was a familiar situation going on back in their homeland as these Polish soldiers were fighting for their liberty from the occupying forces of Russia, Prussia and Austria that began in 1772.

Many Poles believed that if they fought for France, Bonaparte would reward them by restoring Polish independence, which had been ended with the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. 

As hopeful as the Haitians, many Poles were seeking union amongst themselves to win back their freedom and independence by organising an uprising.

However many Polish admired their great hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who had fought in the American civil war and was a strong Abolitionist. As a result, these Polish soldiers who also admired their opponents, eventually turned on the French army and join the Haitian slaves.

Polish soldiers participated in the Haitian revolution of 1804, contributing to the establishment of the world’s first free Black republic and the first independent Caribbean state.

Haiti’s first head of state Jean-Jacques Dessalines called Polish people “the White Negroes of Europe”, which was then regarded a great honour, as it meant brotherhood between Poles and Haitians. Dessalines eventually became a cruel despot himself and was killed by his own people in 1806.

Many years later François Duvalier, the president of Haiti who was known for his Black Nationalist and Pan-African views, used the same concept of ‘European White Negroes‘ while referring to Polish people and glorifying their patriotism.

After Haiti gained its independence, the Poles acquired Haitian citizenship for their loyalty and support in overthrowing the French colonialists, and were called ‘Black’ by the Haitian constitution.

In historical terms this was the ‘only successful slave revolt in the world’.

“Through his excellence on the cricket field, Sir Everton helped in a fundamental way to change Barbados for the better, forever, by proving that true excellence cannot be constrained by social barriers.”

– PM of Barbados Owen Arthur

Sir Everton Weekes one of the Three W’s and one of the world’s greatest cricketers, he was born in a wooden shack in Pickwick Gap, St. Michael, Barbados on 26th February 1925.

Leaving school at 14 with no job, Weekes honed his cricketing and football skills on the streets of Barbados, before joining the army in 1943. Joining the army allowed him to play cricket at a higher level under the Barbados Cricket Association. It’s never been clear if it was his deliberate plan to further his sporting ambitions.

Weekes had a classic batting style, possessed a variety of shots on both sides of the wicket, and is considered one of the hardest hitters in cricket history. Sir Everton had a phenomenal international career scoring 4,235 runs in 46 tests, averaging 58.01 and scoring 14 centuries and 19 half centuries, he was the fastest in world to reach 1000 Test runs (shares the record with Herbert Sutcliffe) by achieving the feat in the 12th innings of his career, but more of this later.

His county cricket in England was spent at Bacup Cricket Club, Lancashire between 1948 and 1959. In the Lancashire leagues he was described as a devastating batsman scoring 25 centuries and passing 1,000 runs in each season. In the 1951 season he scored 1,518 for Bacup Cricket Club which remains a record to this day. When he first arrived in Bacup.

Weekes was greatly affected by the cold and took to wearing an army great coat everywhere, to the extent it became part of his League image. His homesickness for Barbados was tempered by his landlady’s potato pies and the presence of Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott, they met up at Sir Everton’s home regularly to play jazz piano and sing. So revered was Sir Everton Weekes in Bacup, that the town council have proposed building a lasting memorial in his honour.

The THREE W’s

The term ‘Three W’s’ was coined by a British journalist during the 1950 West Indies tour of England. In that tour Weekes was in excellent form, scoring 338 runs at 56.33 and playing a significant part in the West Indies 3–1 victory in the Test series, as well as 2310 first-class runs at 79.65 (including five double centuries, a record for a West Indian tour of England). In 1951 Weekes was named ‘Wisden Cricketer of the Year’ for his outstanding performances.

The ‘Three W’s’, were of course himself, Sir Clyde Walcott and Sir Frank Worrell, all noted as the outstanding batsmen from Barbados of their time, who all made their Test debut in 1948 against England. The three were all born within seventeen months of each other and within a mile of Kensington Oval in Barbados and Walcott believed that the same midwife delivered each of them. Weekes first met Walcott in 1941, aged 16, when they were team mates in a trial match. They shared a room together when on tour and, along with Worrell, would go dancing together on Saturday nights after playing cricket.

His career showed a steely determination of pure cricketing genius and yet he was a humble gentle man, the statistics however are mind blowing.  

CompetitionTests Firstclass
Matches48 152
Runs scored4,455 12,010
Batting average58.61 55.34
100s/50s15/19 36/54
Top score207 304*
Balls bowled122 1,137
Wickets1 17
Bowling average77.00 43.00
Best bowling1/8 4/38
Catches/stumpings49/– 124/1

He continued to play first-class cricket until 1964, when he surpassed 12,000 first-class runs in his final innings. He died on 1st July 2020. Barbados Today and the Guardian amongst other publications had heart warming obituaries for this cricket legend.

“By sitting down we were standing up for the very best in American tradition” – Martin Luther King

The Greensboro Sit-ins in 1960 were organised by four young black students, Joseph McNeilFranklin McCainEzell Blair Jr., and David Richmond, they became known as the Greensboro Four.

Influenced by the Non-Violent protest icons such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and the Journey of Reconciliation organised by the Congress of Racial Equality, the four men executed a plan to draw attention to racial segregation in the private sector.

February 1st 1960 was D-day and the target was F. W. Woolworths Five & Dime Store in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Before I move on let’s look at the courage and enormity of what happened here, their lives were at risk, this was the spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement in the Southern states, this sit-in was a contributing factor in the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), it was the inspiration behind the subsequent sit-in movement, in which 70,000 people participated, it led to stores including F. W. Woolworth abandoning segregation policies.

On that momentous day when they were refused service and told that Woolworths do not serve Negroes at their lunch counter. The four men had anticipated problems and bought small items and retained the receipt as proof of purchase, and proof they were paying customers of Woolworths, before sitting down at the store’s lunch counter.

While Blacks were allowed to patronise the dining area, they were relegated to a standing snack bar, as the lunch counter was designated for ‘Whites only’. The Greensboro Four politely requested service at the counter, remaining seated while their orders were refused by the waiting staff.

The lunch counter manager contacted the police, but Johns had already alerted the local media. The police arrived, only to declare that they could do nothing because the four men were paying customers of the store and had not taken any provocative actions.

The last person to approach the Greensboro Four on that first day was an elderly White lady, who rose from her seat in the counter area and walked over toward McCain. She sat down next to him and looked at the four students and told them she was disappointed in them. McCain, in his Air Force ROTC uniform was ready to defend his actions, but remained calm and asked the woman:

“Ma’am, why are you disappointed in us for asking to be served like everyone else?” McCain recalled the woman looking at them, putting her hand on Joe McNeil’s shoulder and saying, “I’m disappointed it took you so long to do this”.

The four sat there until the store closed, however the next day they returned with 20 more Black students and the media interest began. By days 3 and 4 more students joined them including White students and females, over 300 participated causing the sit-in to spill out onto the streets. Lunch staff continued to refuse service, and North Carolina’s official chaplain of the Ku Klux Klan, George Dorsett, as well as other members of the Klan, were present.

The F.W. Woolworth national headquarters said that the company would ‘abide by local custom’ and maintain its segregation policy.

On February 5th things turned much darker when the Klan organised 50 White men to occupy positions in the store in opposition to the students creating a tense situation. In spite of this by 3pm there were 300 protesters. The protesters maintained their dignified non-violent stance under extreme harassment, physical violence and having the dining counter condiments (salt, sauces etc.) poured over their heads. Meeting between students, college officials, and store representatives took place, but failed to find a resolution. In truth by now there could only be one resolution, de-segregation.

The protests now were getting world attention – February 6th was viewed with anticipation, fear and trepidation, with good reason, but none the less over 1,000 protesters turned up for the Sit-in.

A bomb threat was sent to the store for 1.30pm that day and Woolworths had to be evacuated and closed. However it was too late to stop the sit-in protest which was now spreading across many American southern cities and states including Kentucky, Richmond, Lexington, and Nashville. In March President Dwight D. Eisenhower expressed his concern for those who were fighting for their human and civil rights, saying that he was:

“deeply sympathetic with the efforts of any group to enjoy the rights of equality that they are guaranteed by the Constitution”.

The action of the Greensboro Four on February 1 was an incredible act of courage, but it wasn’t unique. There had been previous sit-ins. In 1957, for instance, seven African Americans staged one at the segregated Royal Ice Cream Parlor in Durham, North Carolina. What made Greensboro different was how it grew from a courageous moment to a revolutionary movement. The combination of organic and planned ingredients came together to create an unprecedented youth activism that changed the direction of the Civil Rights Movement and the nation itself. The results of this complex and artful recipe are difficult to faithfully replicate. Besides the initial, somewhat spontaneous February 1 act of courage, more components were needed.

The essential ingredient in this protest was publicity.

Afro Supa Hero in life and death

Jon Daniel was an award-winning creative director whose range of work – from ad campaigns, to magazine columns and exhibition curation – led to accolades and notoriety across London and further afield.

Born in London in 1966 and a long-term resident of Milkwood Road in Herne Hill, his mother, Sheila, came from Grenada and worked as a district nurse and his father, Horace, came from Barbados and worked for London Transport before moving into the civil service. Daniel was a hugely talented artist and a passionate supporter of local community groups.

He channelled what he called his:

“over-active mind and imagination,”

into a graphic design course, working for 25 years as an art director for many of London’s leading ad agencies.

The award-winning designer and graphic artist of Afro Supa Hero, was one of the most prominent black creatives of his generation and a pivotal player in capturing the essence of the Black British struggle and empowerment through his art.

He passed away far too soon at just 51 years of age of Pneumonia in 2017.

Jon Daniel obituary

By his friend Stuart Husbands written for The Guardian Newspaper 31st Pctober 2017

My friend Jon Daniel, who has died of pneumonia aged 51, was an award-winning creative director whose range of work – from ad campaigns, to efforts to raise black consciousness, to magazine columns, to exhibition curation – was as various as the man himself. Whether he was spearheading an attempt to get the Royal Mail to take up his designs for a set of stamps highlighting the black contribution to Britain, or gleefully detailing his latest celebrity sighting at Herne Hill station, he did it with a winning and infectious enthusiasm.

Jon was born in London, the child of West Indian immigrants. His mother, Sheila, came from Grenada and worked as a district nurse; his father, Horace, came from Barbados and worked for London Transport before moving into the civil service. The family – he had two brothers, Damian and Tony – lived in East Sheen, and while Jon’s afro was an object of intense fascination at school, he didn’t recall any overt racism:

“just a sense of difference”.

He steeped himself in the West Indian culture of his extended family and the African-American move from the civil rights era into 70s funk. His older brother, Tony, introduced him to bands such as the Ohio Players, Brass Construction, Cameo and Slave; he devoured the biographies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. He channelled what he called his “over-active mind and imagination” into a graphic design course, working for 25 years as an art director for many of London’s leading ad agencies.

In 1993 he married Jane Cullen, a fellow art director; his assiduous and prolonged wooing of her remains legendary among the couple’s many friends. Jon was a devoted husband and father to their two sons, Noah and Gil.

Latterly, Jon followed one of the key precepts of his idol (and friend) George Clinton – “If you ain’t gonna get it on, take your dead ass home” – in being an advocate for the past achievements and current aspirations of the Black diaspora and their second- and third-generation descendants. He worked on campaigns and branding for Black History Month and Operation Black Vote; he collaborated with Ms Dynamite, Soul II Soul and the Black Cultural Archives; and he championed previous creative trailblazers in 4 Corners, his regular column for Design Week.

His show Post-Colonial: Stamps from the African Diaspora, was hosted at the London store of Stanley Gibbons, the global stamp emporium, in 2011. Then there was Afro Supa Hero, Jon’s exhibition based on his personal collection of black action figures and comic books. It had started with the acquisition of a Malcolm X doll in the mid-90s; by 2013, when the collection went on show at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, it encompassed everything from Harriet Tubman and Meteor Man action figures to Black Goliath comics, Harlem Globetrotters board games and Jon’s Afro Supa Star-branded mugs.

Whether watching the crowds delighting in the Afro Supa Hero exhibits on the show’s opening night, or attending one of his regular, jam-packed birthday parties at the White Lion in Streatham, or wolfing down rice and peas alongside dub steppers and design luminaries, Jon’s own superpower was immediately apparent. It lay in his ability to bring people together, no matter their background or station, and infuse them with his unquenchable generosity of spirit.

More for Jon Daniels

REPEATING ISLANDS: News and commentary on Caribbean culture, literature, and the arts – Rembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

Operation Black Vote (OBV) articles. including Jon Daniel, Black politics and me: Jon and his then creative partner Trevor Robinson in advertising said they’d provide £250k marketing nous for OBV for free and sponsorship of £25k. They walked into the OBV office and said, “This is our gig. This is a Black project and right now it will be best executed by Black creatives who can feel what you feel and help translate that into a dynamic message and the very best results.”

Design Week: Remembering Jon Daniel – a series of some of Daniels Best contributions

Facebook interview with Jon Daniel

The assassination of Medgar Evers on 12th June 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith and the murder of Hattie Carroll on 9th February 1963 by William Zantzinger, had strong reverberations throughout the USA at the height of and most crucial period of the Civil Rights Movement.

Bob Dylan wrote two classic songs about these two deaths that became iconic links to the Civil Rights Movement, the direct brutality of the lyrics astonished the activists and became an influential style in the art of protest song writing.

More about the songs later (below), let me first discuss the deaths of Evers and Carroll at the hands of White Supremacists.

Medgar Wiley Evers

Was a brilliant and effective Civil Rights activist and distinguished himself fighting in WWII. The fury over Evers’ assissination fuelled the March on Washington in August 1963, and his death is widely considered a pivotal event in the civil rights movement.

Born in 1925, Medgar Evers had followed (his brother) Charles into the Army during WWII. He was assigned to a segregated field battalion in England and France. Although some black soldiers refused to come back from France where they were treated as equals, some vowed to return fighting. As did Medgar he said to his brother after a racial incident:

“When we get out of the Army, we’re going to straighten this thing out”

In 1946, after three years of distinguished military service, Evers received an honourable discharge, finished high school, and enrolled in Alcorn College in Mississippi, where he met his wife Myrlie Beasley.

Alarmed at the level of poverty and destitution he found among the black populace of rural Mississippi, Evers decided to do something about it and joined the NAACP.

In 1954, a few months before the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, Evers volunteered to challenge segregation in higher education and applied to the University of Mississippi School of Law. He was rejected on a technicality, but his willingness to risk harassment and threats for racial justice caught the eye of national NAACP leadership; he was soon hired as the organisation’s first field secretary in Mississippi.

Evers soon began organising local NAACP chapters and coordinating boycotts of gasoline stations that refused to allow African Americans to use their restrooms. Evers’s organisational skills allowed him to bring together isolated groups of disillusioned individuals and meld them into a unified force.

The position catapulted him to what his wife Myrlie later called – No. 1 on the Mississippi ‘to-kill’ list. Evers garnered national attention for organising demonstrations and boycotts and for securing legal assistance for James Meredith, a black man whose 1962 attempt to enroll in the University of Mississippi was met with riots and state resistance. As we have mentioned in previous blogs, his courage gained support from star activists Nina Simone, Lena Horne and spread right to the White House and John F. Kennedy.

In the weeks leading up to his death, Evers found himself the target of a number of threats. His public investigations into the murder of Emmett Till and his vocal support of Clyde Kennard left him vulnerable to attack. On May 28, 1963, a molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home, and five days before his death, he was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from the Jackson NAACP office.

Civil rights demonstrations accelerated in Jackson during the first week of June 1963. A local television station granted Evers time for a short speech, his first in Mississippi, where he outlined the goals of the Jackson movement. Following the speech, threats on Evers’ life increased.

On June 12, 1963, Evers pulled into his driveway after returning from an integration meeting where he had conferred with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that stated, Jim Crow Must Go.

The events inspired Bob Dylans song Only A Pawn In The Game, unusually for a protest song, Dylan named the assassin in the lyrics.

Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from the rifle of Byron De La Beckwith. He staggered 30 feet before collapsing, dying at the local hospital 50 minutes later, who had at first refused him entry because of his colour. Evers was murdered just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s speech on national television in support of civil rights and just five months before Kennedy suffered the same fate.

Byron De La Beckwith a member of the White Citizen’s Council in Jackson, Mississippi and the Klu Klux Klan was acquitted twice in the 1960’s by two all White male juries. He was eventually convicted in 1994 (31 years later). The 1994 state trial was held before a jury consisting of eight black people and four white people.

New evidence included testimony that he had boasted of the murder at a Klan rally, and that he had boasted of the murder to others during the three decades since the crime had occurred. The physical evidence was essentially the same as that presented during the first two trials. They convicted De La Beckwith of first-degree murder for killing Medgar Evers, he was sentenced to life without the chance of parole.

Hattie Carroll

Was not a Civil Rights Worker and nor was she politically active. She sang in the over-45 person choir and was a member of the congregation’s ‘Flower Guild’, charged with beautifying the church. However, in the eyes of her killer she was a worthless ‘nigger’.

She was murdered by, William Zantzinger (not Zanzinger, as Dylan’s lyrics read) He was a wealthy 24 year-old white tobacco farmer and he murdered her because she could not serve him a drink fast enough. Living in the segregated South, Carroll was a barmaid in a Baltimore hotel. Using his cane, Zantzinger hammered about her head for five minutes.

Carroll was born in 1911, possibly on the 3rd March, she had 11 children (not 10 like Dylan wrote), lived in the lower-middle-class black neighborhood of Cherry Hill in Baltimore, and attended the Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church downtown. As with Medgar Evers Dylan named the murderer in the song, The Lonsome Death Of Hattie Carroll.

He was apparently having the time of his life at the hotel’s ‘Spinster’s Ball’, a drunken country mouse in the big city. His drinking and disorderliness quickly turned cruel, as he yelled racial epithets at the Black waiting staff. What’s more, he held onto his cane instead of leaving it at the coat check:

“I was having lots of fun with it, tapping everybody,” he said.

That tapping became more like hitting when it came to a few of the hotel’s Black Staff, including Hattie Carroll, he said:

“I don’t have to take that kind of shit off a nigger,” before he attacked her with his cane..

After this vicious attack she was unable to move her arm and her speech became slurred, she ran to the hotel kitchen for help. At that point, an ambulance was called. She died eight hours later at the hospital from head injuries.

Zantzinger was at first charged with murder, however he was eventually charged with the lesser crime of manslaughter.

Hoping to avoid a racially charged trial and national publicity, the defense opted to forego a jury, and won a change of venue to Hagerstown, Maryland. Many witnesses testified before a panel of judges, who found Zantzinger guilty of manslaughter, but gave him a sentence of only six months. The sentence was handed down on August 28, 1963, the same day that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his, I Have a Dream speech in nearby Washington, D.C. If the sentence had been any longer, Zantzinger would have had to serve it in the state prison, but as it was, he could stay at the local jail. Moreover, he was released on bail to get his tobacco crop in before starting his sentence in September.

He received received 6 months in prison for the crime and a fine of $500.

Lyrics – The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
Bob Dylan

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll,
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’,
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station,
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.

But you who philosophize, disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for
Your tears.

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years,
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him,
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders,
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was
Snarling,
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.

But you who philosophise, disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for
Your tears.

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage,
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table,
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table,
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger.

But you who philosophize, disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for
Your tears.In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel,
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the
Level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and
Persuaded,
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em,
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom,
Stared at the person who killed for no reason,
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’.
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,

And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.

Oh, but you who philosophize, disgrace and criticize all
Fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face, for now’s the time for your
Tears.

Lyrics – Only A Pawn In Their Game

Bob Dylan

A bullet from the back of a bush
Took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin, ” they explain
And the Negro’s name
Is used, it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

From the poverty shacks,

he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ‘neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their gameToday,

Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain
Only a pawn in their game

Singer – Songwriter – Musician – Actor – Civil Rights Activist

This blog is long overdue for a man who put himself on the line with his prominent Civil Rights activities and who is still kicking but today even though on the 1st March 2021 he saw his 94th birthday.

We should add before we skip through his life that this blog is also a ‘music party blog’ to be exact a CALYPSO PARTY.

Harry Belafonte was mentored in his political beliefs by Paul Robeson, he was also a close confident of Martin Luther King Jr. and as with many activists he came under the spotlight of ‘McCarthyism’ and was blacklisted.

Belafonte did not play at Civil Rights,he got his hands dirty and was in the mix, amongst the many, many things he was involved in are some notable historic moments.

He financed the ‘1961 Freedom Rides’, supported Voter Registration Drives, and helped to organise the 1963 March on Washington. During the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, he bailed Martin Luther King Jr. out of Birmingham City Jail and raised $50,000 to release other civil rights protesters and during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, Belafonte bankrolled the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, flying to Mississippi that August with Sidney Poitier and $60,000 in cash and entertaining crowds in Greenwood.

Harry Belafonte with Martin Luther King Jr

His list of political activities seem endless and always on the side of the oppressed – the underdog. In 1985, he helped organise and produce the song We Are the World, a multi-artist effort to raise funds for Africa and performed in the Live Aid concert that same year. In 1987 he became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, he served as chairman of the ‘International Symposium of Artists and Intellectuals for African Children’.

No decade in his life did he seek a quiet life, by the new century he was campaigning against HIV-AIDS, he is on the board of directors of the non-profit making Civil Rights Advancement Project, he also served on the Advisory Council of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He met with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and opposed George Bush Jr. Middle East war ambitions; on the Black members of the Bush administration, he used a Malcolm X quote when describing Colin Powell and Condeleeza Rice:

“There is an old saying, in the days of slavery. There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master, do exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. 

Colin Powell is committed to come into the house of the master, as long as he would serve the master, according to the master’s purpose. And when Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture. And you don’t hear much from those who live in the pasture”

We could go on and on about this remarkable man’s life, and we have not yet mentioned that he made 35 films between 1953 and 2020 including Carmen Jones (1954) and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018).

However let’s jump to the music that most people in the world remember him for, no small thing – he introduced CALYPSO MUSIC to the world.

The single Matilda (1953) became the first widely released Calypso song and was an instant success; this was followed in 1956 by the album Calypso. This album became the first album to sell over a million copies, including the first album to sell a million copies in England alone (I’ve got 2 vinyl copies just in case). Belafonte was nicknamed the King of Calypso, he liked the tag, but true to form he always emphasised that Trinidad & Tobaga were the origins of Calypso music.

At the beginning of his musical career he was a club singer, being backed by the likes of Charlie ParkerMax Roach and Miles Davis;  however at heart he saw himself as a ‘folk singer’, he studied material from the Library of Congress American Folk Songs Archives, in particular music of African Blackroots’, something that dominated his musical output for decades.

There are many things to admire this man for, but let’s be honest Calyso music put sunshine into everyone’s life and a smile on every face.

International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

For this day we wish to present you with our specially re-edited video of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song performed by Playing For Change – One World.

Take a moment today to remember the millions of Africans brutally murdered, the millions of them who were enslaved and transported 1000s of miles away from their communities in west Africa in the Middle Passage – the Transatlantic Slave Trade – and then to become slave labourers on the plantations of the ‘New World’.

This is a shameful hidden history of the morally bankrupt White European ruling classes and their actions of enslaving Africans that they carried out in their desire to increase their wealth. Today is a day to remember the devastating impact that they had on lives of many millions of Africans.

Redemption Song – Written by Bob Marley

Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time

How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look
Oh! Some say it’s just a part of it
We’ve got to fulfill the book

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our mind
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time

How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it’s just a part of it
We’ve got to fulfill the book

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever had
Redemption songs
All I ever had
Redemption songs
These songs of freedom
Songs of freedom

Not often cited as a controversial Civil Rights activist Lena Horne is still to this day seen only as a singer, dancer, actress performer and not as an activist, in a similar way to Nina Simone. However that could not be further from the truth.

“You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way”.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of a banker/professional gambler and an actress. Both parents had a mixed heritage of African American, European American and Native American descent. Her parents separated when she was three, and because her mother travelled as part of various theatre troupes, Horne lived with her grandparents for a time. Later, she alternately accompanied her mother on the road and stayed with family and friends around the country.

Over the course of her long life, Lena Horne became a star of film, music, television, and stage, as well as a formidable force for Civil Rights. She won a Tony in 1981, and two years later, earned a National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) medal that had previously been awarded to Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and Rosa Parks.

When she died in 2010 at age 92, President Barack Obama noted that she was the first Black singer to tour with an all-White band and that she refused to perform for segregated audiences. He said:

“Michelle and I join all Americans in appreciating the joy she brought to our lives and the progress she forged for our country”.

Lena Horne was an enormous star throughout the 30’s and 40’s but there was a limit to how far MGM and others would go with her even as a lighter skinned Black women. In the MGM movie Showboat (1951) she was considered but not used as she was seen as, ‘too risky’. Strangely the musical is about a fair skinned Black woman, who’s life is changed when she is discovered to be ‘Black’. MGM instead chose a close friend of Lena’s to take the role, Ava Gardner, and darkened her skin with make up.

Lena was stuffed into one ‘all-star’ film musical after another – Thousands Cheer (1943), Broadway Rhythm (1944), Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), ‘Words and Music’ (1948) – to sing a song or two that, she later recalled, could easily be snipped from the movie when it played in the South, where the idea of an African-American performer in anything but a subservient role in a movie with an otherwise all-white cast was unthinkable.

A close friend of Civil Rights giant Paul Robeson. Robeson had an affinity for Horne because her grandmother, a staunch character with a college education, had helped him get a scholarship to Rutgers.

In 1941, Horne found herself seeking Robeson’s advice. As she later detailed in her letter at the Sands Hotel (see below), she told him she was exhausted by the pressures of show business, the racism she faced from the White establishment, and the disdain she heard from Black people who accused her of ‘trying to pass as White’, Robeson kept listening. Finally, he exhorted her to devote her life to making the country a better place, to eradicate her pain by helping people everywhere. He named specific groups such as the Council for African Affairs and the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee.

Horne also performed at a fundraiser for 10 screenwriters who’d refused to testify; they’d been fired from their studios and found guilty of contempt of Congress:

“I’m not alone, I’m free. I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody”.

These activities inevitably led to a brief period in the early 1950s under McCarthyism when Horne’s career seemed to be over. Her name had appeared in Red Channelsa report that listed more than 100 entertainers who appeared to have Communist leanings. Some of the other African Americans on the list were: Lena’s friend and mentors Paul Robeson; the actor Canada Lee; the poet / novelist / playwright Langston Hughes; acclaimed author Richard Wright; the prominent jazz and classical pianist, singer, and actor Hazel Scott; the classical music conductor Dean Dixon; the author / playwight / composer Shirley Graham Du Bois; prominent singer / guitarist / songwriter/ actor Josh White; stage actor Hilda Simms; actress Ruby Dee; playwright / film director Ossie Davis; and others were outlawed by the HUAC. Most of these people were civil rights activists, some were socialists or communists but most had no affiliation to a polical party. The abusive term, ‘pinko’, was bandied around to demonise people.

Because of the accusations and intimidations, some of these creative people went to live in Europe, others were denied their passports, some had breakdowns and suffered ill health, many lost work contracts. Friendships were rift apart and people were ostracised in their own communities.

For more than three years after that, Lena Horne struggled to get work. She continued to perform at nightclubs, but nobody in the TV or film industries would hire her.

She was at a low point in June 1953 when she performed at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. The city was not the shining epicentre of entertainment that it is today. It was not even the Las Vegas of Frank Sinatra’s famed Rat Pack jet set. There were only a handful of hotels and motels, and the infamous Strip was non-existent. But Horne had few other options. She closed the show with Stormy Weather, her most famous song:

Stormy Weatherwritten by Etta James

Don’t know why
There’s no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather
Since my man and I ain’t together
Keeps raining all of the time

Oh, yeah
Life is bad
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather, stormy weather
And I just can get my poor self together
Oh, I’m weary all of the time
The time, so weary all of the time

When he went away
The blues walked in and met me
Oh, yeah if he stays away
Old rocking chair’s gonna get me
All I do is pray
The Lord will let me
Walk in the sun once more

Oh, I can’t go on, can’t go on, can’t go on
Everything I have is gone
Stormy weather, stormy weather
Since my man and I, me and my daddy ain’t together
Keeps raining all of the time
Oh, oh, keeps raining all of the time
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah raining all of the time
Stormy stormy
Stormy weather
Yeah

At the end of the show she went back to her room. On Sands stationery stamped with the hotel motto ‘A Place in the Sun’, her story unfolded. She wrote a letter to Roy Brewer, the trade union leader who was prominently involved in the anti-communist movement in the 1940s and 1950s:

Appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947, Brewer testified that the Soviet Union was financing “the takeover of the motion picture industry” and that American communists were attempting to “control the unions.”

Roy M. Brewer, 97; Powerful Figure During Blacklist Era by By DENNIS MCLELLAN
SEP. 23, 2006 in the Los Angeles Times

“Dear Mr. Brewer”, her letter began. Sadly, this marked the distancing between herself and Paul Robeson, who was also on the list.

For decades, Horne’s biographers have largely glossed over the question of how Horne found her way back into the entertainment business. Even Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, who wrote a 1986 book about the Horne family, didn’t get to see the letter until 2013. 

All that time, it was sitting in a bankers box, packed away in a children’s playhouse on a dusty ranch in the San Fernando Valley. But those 12 neatly written pages reveal how a beautiful young Black woman became a pawn in the Cold War – and how she ultimately regained control of her career and her life.

Horne continued to advocate for human rights and took part in the March on Washington in August 1963 with Martin Luther King and said of him:

 “Every colour I can think of and nationality, we were all touched by Dr. King because he made us like each other and respect each other”

Later she returned to her roots as a nightclub performer and continued to work on television, while releasing well-received record albums. Lena Horne remained an active supporter of Civil Rights throughout the rest of her life.

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