Written, sung, spoken words

African history is intrinsic to British history, yet hidden when taught in schools. We may be discussing the Industrial Revolution and the cotton mills, yet little is said about the raw cotton, where it was grown, who picked it – free labour from enslaved Africans. Nor how the wealth to start the Revolution came from – slave labour and colonisation. We may discuss medieval history, but ignore the great empires: of Zimbabwe, Benin (in Nigeria) and Mali, in Africa; Mongol and the Yuan Dynasty in China; and the Ottoman Empire. Such ommission negates England’s, Europe’s relationships with these empires.

Walter Rodney wrote the book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, so first a bit first about Walter Rodney: Foluke Ifejola Adebisi, Senior Lecturer of Law at Bristol University, gives a lovely biography in her blog Walter Rodney: Illuminating the road from mental slavery.

“In a system of knowledge that is hegemonically Eurocentric, how did he get to anpoint where he could write this? This article summarises what I have learnt about Walter Rodney, author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, over the years….

“On the 23rd of March, 1942, Walter Anthony Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana (pictured above). He was absolutely brilliant in school and so in 1960, when he graduated first in his class, he won an open scholarship to the University of the West Indies (UWI). Rodney studied history at UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica, graduating with a first class in 1960. Brilliant. He then went on to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London from where he received his PhD in African History at the age of 24! From London he went to teach in Tanzania for a year before returning to Jamaica to teach. Absolutely brilliant and Pan-African.”

Walter Rodney’s book is reviewed by Tony Mckenna in 2018, in Marx & Philosophy is an excellent summary. The book itself was first published in 1972.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

In the first section of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa Walter Rodney treats us to an image of Africa and its peoples before the horror of the transatlantic slave trade was visited upon them. He shows us a rich and complex patchwork quilt of interlocking societies and civilisations. Some involved a basic division of labour and were profoundly communal in character: the Khoisan hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari Desert, for instance, or the Kaffa cultivators, the Galla pastoralists, as well as the communities of Bozo fisherman or the nomadic Fulani herdsmen.

At the same time such groups often existed alongside more developed societies: the Benin Kingdom whose powerful industry and sophisticated division of labour underlay the creation of a plethora of great art, including the famous bronze heads, or further to the North, the great civilisation of Medieval Mali whose capital, Timbuktu, was a centre for learning across the continent and beyond (at its height a quarter of its population attended its great universities), or the Fatamid dynasty of Egypt which introduced the new industries of ‘papermaking, sugar refining, porcelain, and the distillation of gasoline’ while the ‘older industries of textiles, leather and metal were improved upon’ (page 57). That same dynasty also happened to found the world-historic city of Cairo. Or some centuries later, and far to the South, Great Zimbabwe, another monument to the history and the grandiosity of city building in old Africa:

‘One of the principal structures at Great Zimbabwe was some 300 feet long and 220 feet broad, with the walls being 30 feet high and 20 feet thick.’

Page 77

But Rodney’s purpose, in his rather far-ranging and systematic depiction of the diversity and complexity of these societies is not to provide the reader with some idealised and utopic vision of a pre-modern Africa. In actual fact Rodney recognises all too well that much of the great material and spiritual artefacts of African civilisation were often premised on a more developed division of labour in which ruling aristocracies emerged, seizing control of the means of production, thereby becoming ‘a social stratum above the clans which previously existed and which had had narrow territorial bases.’ (p73)

The development of a heightened set of class contradictions which allowed for an increased intensity in the exploitation of the direct producers was the precondition for great advances in both technology and culture, for in many places ‘communal egalitarianism was on its way out’ having become a ‘brake on the development’ of ‘collective communities.’(p72)

Many of the places which had travelled furthest along the line of development also introduced slavery, both chattel slaves and domestic slaves, though Rodney argues that slavery itself was not concentrated enough to form the central mode of production in any one region or kingdom. In any event, Rodney’s description of the great civilisations of old Africa is one which combines high culture, technological innovation, city building, art and education – with glittering powerful elites and ruthless aristocratic dynasties and more often than not the intensive and debilitating exploitation of those at the bottom.

It is not in any sense an idealised portrait. It is a highly systematic analysis of a place which most of all shows that in terms of its sociological character and the sheer diversity of various societies from the most backward to the most advanced – Africa was not greatly removed from the medieval Europe of the day and was everywhere embroiled in active, vibrant historical developments.

One of the many tragic consequences of the transatlantic slave trade was that it worked to put a stopper on such developments. At the dawn of the transatlantic slave trade, there was a level of parity between Africa and Europe in many respects.  When the Dutch first visited Benin City, they were struck by its resemblance to their own cities, with one traveller describing it thus:

‘The town seems to be very great…. The king’s palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam.’ (cited 83)

Many African leaders enjoyed honorary roles in European courts, indeed Africans more generally, on the cusp of the transatlantic slave epoch, were still able to become knights in European feudal society, a fact famously expressed in the painting The Kings Fountain (Chafariz d’El-Rey) where an Afro-Portuguese knight can be seen riding through a central square in 16th century Lisbon.

The King’s Fountain Chafariz d’El-Rey, c. 1570-80 (Colecção Berardo)

But though ‘European technical superiority did not apply to all aspects of production … the advantage they possessed in a few key areas proved decisive.’ (p90) One such area, of course, was the use of guns (a weapon which was not invented in Europe but in Yuan dynasty China). But also in terms of ships. Intra-African trade was almost always centred on the rivers and waterways inland, so that:

‘African canoes on the river Nile and the Senegal coast were of a high standard, but the relevant sphere of operations was the ocean, where the European ships could take command.’

Page 90

In addition the Europeans controlled many of the trade routes which led to Asia and thus Africa’s trade with the outside world was increasingly monopolised by Europeans.

Once the Americas had been opened up, and once the indigenous peoples there had succumbed in their millions to the genocidal activities of the Europeans and the diseases they brought in their wake, a need to find new blood to invigorate the labouring population became a pressing one on the part of the conquerors. It was a need which was met first by indentured labourers and later by an ever increasing number of (in the main) African slaves.  European commercial interests were able to create the pattern of triangulation which would define the next several centuries:

‘They engaged in buying cotton cloth in India to exchange for slaves in Africa to mine gold in Central and South America. Part of the gold in the Americas would then be used to purchase spices and silks from the Far East. The concept of metropole and dependency automatically came into existence when parts of Africa were caught up in the web of international commerce.’

Page 87

European traders and merchants were able to ‘bamboozle’ African rulers of a ‘certain status and authority’ with their luxury wares so that the latter provided more and more slaves and ‘even began … to raid outside their societies as well as to exploit internally by victimizing some of their own subjects.’ (p91) Thus the success of the transatlantic slave system depended on some level of collaboration between European commercial interests and African elites. Rodney notes, rather tellingly, that in:

‘the simplest of societies where there were no kings, it provided impossible for Europeans to strike up the alliance which was necessary to carry on a trade in captives on the coast.’

Page 91

At the same time some rulers of powerful states did resist; the Angolan state of Matamba, for example, with:

‘Queen Nzinga at its head … tried to coordinate resistance against the Portuguese … and this left Matamba isolated…. So long as it opposed trade with the Portuguese, it was an object of hostility from neighbouring African states which had compromised with Europeans and slave trading.’

Page 92-3

The figure which is most frequently provided is that of 10 million Africans; 10 million people who were ripped from their homes and converted into someone else’s property, transported across the Atlantic and condemned to a life of inhuman brutalisation which beggars belief. But the 10 million figure neither takes into account the number of people (captured slaves) who died on the journey from the inland to the great ports of West Africa and nor does it account for the number of those who died in the slaving wars which were facilitated by European commercial interests.

The true number is certainly far greater. The massive loss to the labour force in those regions meant that many local industries were weakened, which meant in turn that European products became more dominant and that the natural flow of trade which flowed from region to region within Africa was increasingly usurped in favour of the need to satisfy the commercial demands which Europeans imposed. Consequently, all sorts of industries were retarded. Rodney writes of the cloth making industry:

‘When European cloth became dominant on the African market, it meant that African producers were cut off from the increasing demand. The craft producers either abandoned their tasks … or they continued on the same small hand-worked instruments to create styles and pieces for localized markets. Therefore there was what can be called “technological arrest” or stagnation or even regression…. The abandonment of traditional iron smelting in most parts of Africa is probably the most important instance of technological repression.’

Page 119

As Rodney goes on to argue, development presupposes ‘a capacity for self-sustaining growth’ (119) and it was this which the transatlantic slave trade truncated. The consequences were stark. Rodney provides figures showing how population growth in Africa was minimal, almost flat; from 1650 to 1900 it went from 100 million to 120 million (compared with Asia which went from 257 million to 857 million in the same timeframe). (p110)

In addition, the transatlantic slave trade facilitated the growth of ‘monocultures’ – that is, local economies which were almost entirely dependent on producing one raw material for exportation to Europe. For European economic development, however, the situation couldn’t have been more different:

The African contribution to European capitalist growth extended over such vital sectors as shipping, insurance, the formation of companies, capitalist agriculture, technology, and the manufacture of machinery … the French Saint-Malo fishing industry was revived by the opening up of markets in the French slave plantations; while the Portuguese in Europe depended heavily on dyes like indigo, camwood, Brazil wood, and cochineal brought from Africa and the Americas. Gum from Africa also played a part in the textile industry, which is acknowledged as having been one of the most powerful engines of growth within the European economy. Then there was the export of ivory from Africa, providing the raw material for industries in England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and North America – producing items ranging from knife handles to piano keys. (p97)

The final section of the book concentrates on the rapacious colonialization – ‘the scramble for Africa’ – which the European powers subjected Africa to at the end of the 19th century and into the run up to the First World War. The historical context – the legacy of slavery, the decimation of local industry, the narrowing of productive technique, the interruption of internal trade, the uprooting of labour and life from local communities, the extraction and exsanguination of a plethora of natural resources – worked to abrogate the ‘capacity for self-sustaining growth’ on the part of indigenous Africa while at the same time providing a concentrated boost to European development which would culminate in the humming, high-powered engine of the industrial revolution and the most brutal impetus to global empire the world had ever seen.

The African states fell so rapidly to European power in this period precisely because European economic and productive development had developed, vampire like, by sucking the vitality out of African society and curtailing the possibility of its own. Once more, the colonists were aided by some level of local cooperation. Many of the Africans who had served in the centuries before as the intermediaries facilitating the import and export of goods to and from Europe, were already fluent in European languages and already tethered to European commercial interests. At the same time, Rodney draws attention to numerous examples of heroic resistance on the part of states and communities whose ability to resist was nevertheless meagre in light of European technological supremacy.

On assuming a political domination over the region, the colonialists sank their talons in with a savagery, rapaciousness and disregard which is even more mortifying given the way the continent had already been bled so violently.

Rodney depicts the process with a combination of historical pathos and trenchant statistical research, peppered with many revealing incidents and examples. Once individual states had been overwhelmed, land and resources were sold off at bargain basement prices.

So, for example:

‘after the Kenya highlands had been declared “Crown land,” the British handed over to Lord Delamere 100,000 acres of the best land at cost of a penny per acre.’

Page 182

These sorts of appropriations, which amounted to little more than naked robbery, were supplemented by the most incredible exploitation of African labour.

In South Rhodesia, for example, in the 1930s, ‘agricultural labourers rarely received more than fifteen shillings per month’. (p179) A more skilled counterpart – a truck driver travelling to the mines in the north of the country for instance – would receive more, but still only accruing a meagre three pounds per month. But the Europeans who did that same job (truck driving in Northern Rhodesia) would receive thirty pounds per month. (p179)

To all of this must be added the most barbaric forms of barely-compensated, forced labour which resulted in millions of injuries and deaths, most notoriously in the Belgian Congo under Leopold II. Such draconian conditions and the incredible profits they yielded helped fuse and forge the great industrial corporations of the epoch with financial giants like Barclays Bank whose capital filtered through them.

Most importantly of all Rodney’s systematic unfurling of all these processes decisively dispels the enduring myth that – despite its brutalities – colonialism nevertheless yielded a progressive modernisation of the continent. The possibilities for the development of technology, the education of the work force, the creation of a modern urban working class, the integration of communities, the development of a welfare state – all failed to transpire:

‘in other words, capitalism in the form of colonialism failed to perform in Africa the tasks which it had performed in Europe in changing social relations and liberating the forces of production.’

Page 260

The only slight qualification to this exists in the form of those technologies which were integral to transporting goods in and out of the continent.

Activist Writer Playwright

“Blacks must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent… They must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps—and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities.”

“Above all, there were two things which were never to be betrayed: the family and the race”.

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) initially worked on the Pan African journal ‘Freedom’, where she met and mixed with other giants of Civil Rights such as Paul Robeson and Du Bois, in her work on the Africans and Black Americans struggles for liberation and equality.

Like Paul Robeson and many black civil rights activists, Hansberry understood the struggle against ‘White Supremacy’ to be interlinked with the program of the Communist Party of which she joined. One of her first reports covered the Sojourners for Truth and Justice convened in Washington, D.C., by Mary Church Terrell. She travelled to Georgia to cover the case of Willie McGee, and was inspired to write the poem ‘Lynchsong’ about his case.

LYNCHSONG

I can hear Rosalee
See the eyes of Willie McGee
My mother told me about
Lynchings
My mother told me about
The dark nights
And dirt roads
And torch lights
And lynch robes

The
faces of men
Laughing white
Faces of men
Dead in the night
sorrow night
and a
sorrow night

Having grown up in a family that had struggled and fought against segregation, the family challenged a restrictive covenant  eventually provoking the Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940), she was 10years old at the time, as you can see she was well versed in challenging the ‘White Supremacist’ system. Hansberry worked on not only the US civil rights movement, but also global struggles against colonialism and imperialism. She wrote in support of the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, criticising the mainstream press for its biased coverage. She believed that gaining Civil Rights in the United States and obtaining independence in colonial Africa were two sides of the same coin that presented similar challenges for Africans on both sides of the Atlantic

She would often explain these global struggles in terms of female participants. She was particularly interested in the situation of Egypt, the traditional Islamic ‘cradle of civilisation’, where women had led one of the most important fights anywhere for the equality of their sex.

In 1952, Hansberry attended a peace conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, in place of Paul Robeson, who had been denied travel rights by the State Department. In 1959, Hansberry commented that women who are “twice oppressed” may become “twice militant”. She held out some hope for male allies of women, writing in an unpublished essay: “If by some miracle women should not ever utter a single protest against their condition there would still exist among men those who could not endure in peace until her liberation had been achieved”,and in 1963 whilst suffering from cancer she was invited to a meeting with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, set up by James Baldwin.

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an ‘intellectual tour de force’, a writer of great vision, she was the first African-American author to have a play performed on broadway. At the age of 29, she won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, making her the first African-American dramatist, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright to do so.

Her best known work, the play ‘A Raisin in the Sun’, highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago. Her work also discussed her lesbianism and the oppression of homosexuality. The play was translated into 35 languages and catapulted her into fame.

Even though for many years she remained a ‘Closeted Lesbian’, she was in anybody’s eyes a woman way ahead of her time.

Along with Paul Robeson and W. E. B. DuBois, she also associated  with poet Langston Hughes, musician Duke Ellington and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, and her close friend  Nina Simone another Civil Rights activist. Hansberry inspired Nina to write the song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black“, she was also the Godmother to Nina’s daughter Lisa.

The title of the song refers to the title of Hansberry’s autobiography, which Hansberry first coined when speaking to the winners of a creative writing conference on Mayday1964:

“Though it is a thrilling and marvellous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic — to be young, gifted and black.”

To celebrate the ‘Freedom’ newspaper’s first birthday, Hansberry wrote the script for a rally at Rockland Palace, a then-famous Harlem hall, on ‘the history of the Negro newspaper in America and its fighting role in the struggle for a people’s freedom, from 1827 to the birth of ‘FREEDOM’.

She also collaborated with the already produced playwright Alice Childress, who also wrote for ‘Freedom’, on a pageant for its ‘Negro History Festival’, with Harry BelafonteSidney PoitierDouglas Turner Ward and John O. Killens. This is her earliest remaining theatrical work.

Lorraine Hansberry died young aged just 34 in 1965 of pancreatic cancer, but the cancer that dogged her through her life the FBI and American government were still pursuing her to her deathbed, investigating her communism, her attendance of the peace conference in Montivideo in 1952 and declaring her play ‘A Raison In The Sun’ a dangerous, subversive, menacing un-American piece of work – too right.

For all their propaganda she lives on in other ways – the Hansberry Project of Seattle WA, founded in 2004 and officially launched in 2006 was created as an African American theatre lab, led by African American artists and designed to provide the community with consistent access to the African American artistic voice. A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) was their first incubator and in 2012 they became an independent organisation. The Hansberry Project is rooted in the convictions that black artists should be at the centre of the artistic process, that the community deserves excellence in its art, and that theatre’s fundamental function is to put people in a relationship with one another. Their goal is to create a space where the entire community can be enriched by the voices of professional Black artists, reflecting autonomous concerns, investigations, dreams, and artistic expression.

In 2010, Hansberry was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

In 2013, Hansberry was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people. This makes her the first Chicago-native honoured along the North Halsted corridor. Also in 2013, Lorraine Hansberry was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and was honoured in the Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017.

Further reads

A Raisin the Sun – by Lorraine Hansberry PDF format full text

Interview with Lorraine Hansberry

Eamonn Fitzgerald documentary: Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965): Playwright, Activist, American

Lorraine Hansberry website

Two great heroes who are not often highlighted, so much so that their Blue Plaque Memorial had to be ‘Crowd Funded’ by admirers and those who understood their true contribution.

Eric Huntley (1929), incarcerated for leaving his village without permission in what is now known as Guyana, came to England in 1956 with his wife, Jessica Huntley (1927-2013). He was once an important part of the Peoples Progressive Party in what was formerly known as British Guiana (now Guyana). They published a book, “Bougle L’Ouverture”, during a tumultuous time in conservative Britain and it became a reminder that things were changing rapidly. The high streets were no longer dominated by white-only businesses thanks to the Race relations Act 1965. The Walter Rodney bookshop was now one of hundreds of shops owned by Black and other Ethnic minority citizens, so naturally, it was attacked by the National Front.

“They used to leave dog faeces on the front of the shop.” Eric says in an interview with Omar Alleyne-Lawler, “They must have thought it would scare us away. But I’m still here today.”

The two went on to effect the change of Britain’s colonial rule in the West Indies through spreading ideals of independence and equality. One of the major things they organised was the Black People’s Day of Action march of 20,000 black Britons from all over the country and was the largest protest march of black people.

In truth Eric and the late Jessica Huntley are two ordinary people who have transformed the world around them through a shared commitment to publishing, community action and justice.

Eric and Jessica Huntley, pioneering Black political and social activists and radical book publishers born in what then was, British Guiana arrived in England in the 1950’s and wasted no time before becoming active in political and social issues relating to the British African-Caribbean community’s in and around London.

For over 50 years the Huntley’s participated in many significant grassroots campaigns. These included:

• Founder member of the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA), the first specialist Black education group to have been established in the UK.

No Colur Bar – Huntley Archives Timeline

The Black Parents Movement (BPM) formed in 1975 following the arrest and assault by Haringey police of a Black schoolboy named Cliff McDaniel outside his school. This organisation built up alliances with similar organisations nationally and internationally going on to participate in campaigns involving political crises in South Africa, Grenada and Guyana.

• Involvement with the Anti-Banding protest movement organised by the North London West Indian Association (NLWIA) that played an important part in challenging Haringey Council’s plans to assess all pupils in its schools using the now discredited IQ tests and to teach children in “bands” according to their performance.

• Organisers of the 1981 Black People’s Day of Action march that attracted 20,000 black Britons from all over the country and was the largest protest march of black people.

• The Supplementary School Movement, created to supplement the shortcomings of an education system that was failing Black children.

The establishment of Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, to promote radical Black writing. Bogle-L’Ouverture went on to publish texts by Walter Rodney, Bernard Coard, Lemn Sissay and Valerie Bloom

In 1974 the Huntley’s opened their, Bookshop, at that time called ‘The Bookshop’, in West Ealing, London. The bookshop was later renamed as the ‘Walter Rodney Bookshop’ and quickly became a place of importance for Britain’s Black community.

Eric later described it as an ‘oasis in the desert of West London’. Visitors to the shop were able to discover new radical publications, meet authors at book launches and find books to suit children from diverse backgrounds. It also became a place for teachers to learn new ways to teach their subjects and was frequently visited by artists and intellectuals visiting the UK.

It was during the ‘Bookshop years’ that the launch of the first International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books,1981 took place and the establishment of the Peter Moses School in Ealing.

The Huntleys’ went on to publish, in 1994 Cry a Whisper by Lucy Safo, winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for, Best First Book.

In 2005 the Huntleys deposited their archives at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) and this sees the start of another chapter of their lives as along with the HAAG committee (Huntley Archives Advisory Group) they begin to arrange annual ‘Huntley’ conferences at the LMA, starting in 2006. Six years later in 2012 the first youth conference is held at the LMA.

2013 will be remembered for being the year that the first Huntley Symposium took place, being addressed by keynote speaker Hilary Beccles from the University of the West Indies, Friends of The Huntley Archives, the group that replaced HAAG, is granted charity status and sadly Jessica died in October. Eric continues to work with the Conference planning group while also accepting speaking invitations and pursuing his personal writing.

Simukai Chigudu spells out eloquently growing up in the shadow of colonialism. Born 6 years after his country’s independence from Britain, he grew up in the shadow of colonialism. He learnt Latin and English, but not Shona, read British authors and was taught in a building not dissimilar to a British public school. The history of his own country, Zimbabwe, until 1980 Rhodesia, was little known to him. He went on to lead the campaign for ‘Rhodes Must Fall’. Chigudu is a strong advocate for decolonising history, his experience of schooling in Zimbabwe was similar to many young people’s experience in Britain, except the Latin. Chigudu says:

“Ignorance of history serves many ends. Sometimes it papers over the crimes of the present by attributing too much power to the past. Perhaps more often, it covers up past crimes in order to legitimise the way society is arranged in the present. As a teenager, I saw these dynamics play out in the former colony of Rhodesia. I would later discover how much more potent they were in Britain, the metropole.”

With the murder of George Floyd, he said:

“I can’t tell you if I thought about my father’s father, who was murdered by the Rhodesian state before I was born, but I know that, like many Black people, I experienced Floyd’s death as an intimate and personal trauma. If you have ever been on the sharp end of anti-Black racism, it is not difficult to identify with the suffering of other Black people under all kinds of racist regimes.”

This made me smile, as a white person.

Having had little response from the Oxford University to his campaign for ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, Simukai Chigudu continues:

“Ten days after Floyd’s death, the heads of all the Oxford colleges – every single one of them white – wrote an open letter in the Guardian claiming that they stood in solidarity with Black students and affirming their commitment to equal dignity and respect. I immediately thought of Gary Younge’s piercing observation that white people periodically ‘discover’ racism ‘the same way that teenagers discover sex: urgently, earnestly, voraciously and carelessly, with great self-indulgence but precious little self-awareness.’”

The full text is here and is well worth reading. ‘Colonialism had never really ended’: my life in the shadow of Cecil Rhodes by Simukai Chigudu Guardian 14th January 2021

Posted by Kate Thomas

By Rob Burns, with permission from Gavin Odhiambo Okello-Davies to post on Black History Bootleg.

British-Kenyan, “I am a Mulattress of Kenyan Celtic origins. I am a sexual lover of men and an emotional lover of females. I am as comfortable crossing myself in a Russian Orthodox church as I am chanting in a Buddhist temple.

“My Mother is from a village near Kisumu, a city in western Kenya which borders a body of water they call Lake Victoria. She is of the Luo tribe, the blood of which runs through the veins of Barack Obama and Lupita Nyong’o. My Father was born on The Wirral, a peninsula nestled between Liverpool, Chester and North Wales. It is the birthplace of British dignitaries Daniel Craig and Hyacinth Bucket. 

“I and the rest of this generation have access to educational material and images of empowerment every time we log in to social media. The looming shadow of colonialism and dehumanisation is being lifted with each day, and we now wield a power that previous generations could have only dreamt about.

“In the past, those living in the darkness were powerless to the roles of oppressor and oppressed they were handed by the world. Now, we have agency. 

“I went back to Wales this month after a decade and felt a frozen part of my heart melt away when a Welsh Father told me:

‘You’re a bloody Celt, and don’t forget it!’.

“The Welsh still see themselves as an oppressed ethnic group colonised by the English, and the ‘White vs. Black’ paradigm evaporated as I understood that’s playing by their rules: it was never about colour, but always about power.

“Being guided through the pronunciation of that ancient, mystical language was humbling in a way I never felt when learning the languages of the old colonial powers. I adorn myself in kente cloth when dining in the restaurants of Babylon, greet my people in Swahili and shout, ‘Vive l’Afrique’ when speaking to Africans in France. I wear my négritude as a glistening jewel as I occupy space in the Global North and will sip a glass of cognac worth thousands whilst I spoon more shito onto my plate at Auntie Julie’s house.

“I have been blessed in this life with beauty, intelligence, brilliance and kindness. My mission is to hold onto this light and shine it onto others so they can see it too.”


Paolo Zeriali interview with Gavin Odhiambo Okello-Davies

Martin Luther King’s Dream speech reimagined by poet Benjamin Zephaniah

On the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, poet Benjamin Zephaniah reimagines Martin Luther King’s words and tell us what his dreams are for Britain in 2020.

I am here today my friends to tell you there is hope. As high as that mountain may seem, I must tell you I have dream and my friends there is a tunnel at the end of the light. And beyond that tunnel I see a future, I see a time when all people who live on these green rocks we call the British Isles will know the name of Sean Rigg, Leon Briggs, Christopher Elder, Kingsley Burrell, Mikey Powell, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman as well as they know the name of Stephen Lawrence.

I dream of a time when we will no longer feel forced to take to the streets to demand the right to roam the country of our birth without the fear of being dragged from our cars, searched on our streets and humiliated in front of our children…..Read more or Listen Here 

BBC Radio 4 on World at One on January 1st 2020

By Michael Harriot The Root online magazine

On 21st December 2020 the planet Saturn and Jupiter, the two biggest planets in our solar system, will have the closest allignment since 1623 and will be visible with the naked eye. It’s also Winter Solstice and rumours are abound on the internet about new superpowers for Black people, Michael Harriot takes up the story………

#GreatConjunction2020

Celebrating the African Literary Genius 1770’s

Although she was an enslaved person, Phillis Wheatley Peters was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America.

The historic plaque was installed in 2019 at the Dorsett City Hotel next to Aldgate tube station, London.

African literary genius of the 1770s gets historic plaque. 246 year anniversary event honours pioneering poet and author Phillis Wheatley It is unusual for an enslaved African woman to be corresponding with George III, King of England, or indeed to receive a letter from a future American president, George Washington. Wheatleys book was the first ever published in the English language by an African (American) woman (1773) As a founder of womens’ and African-American literature Phillis Wheatley has an incredible story.

Black History Walks in 2019

Educated and enslaved in the household of prominent Boston commercialist John Wheatley, lionized in New England and England, with presses in both places publishing her poems, and paraded before the new republic’s political leadership and the old empire’s aristocracy, Wheatley was the abolitionists’ illustrative testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual.

Phyllis Wheatley visited London in Her name was a household word among literate colonists and her achievements a catalyst for the fledgling antislavery movement.

Wheatley was kidnapped from Senegal/Gambia, West Africa, when she was about seven years old. She was transported to the Boston docks with a shipment of “refugee” slaves, who because of age or physical frailty were unsuited for rigorous labor in the West Indian and Southern colonies, the first ports of call after the Atlantic crossing.

In Boston, US there is a fantastic sculpture see Black Art Depot Today

In the month of August 1761, “in want of a domestic,” Susanna Wheatley, wife of prominent Boston tailor John Wheatley, purchased “a slender, frail female child … for a trifle” because the captain of the slave ship believed that the waif was terminally ill, and he wanted to gain at least a small profit before she died. A Wheatley relative later reported that the family surmised the girl—who was “of slender frame and evidently suffering from a change of climate,” nearly naked, with “no other covering than a quantity of dirty carpet about her”—to be “about seven years old … from the circumstances of shedding her front teeth.”

After discovering the girl’s precociousness, the Wheatleys, including their son Nathaniel and their daughter Mary, did not entirely excuse Wheatley from her domestic duties but taught her to read and write. Soon she was immersed in the Bible, astronomy, geography, history, British literature including Milton and Pope and the Greek Classics.

Wheatley, suffering from a chronic asthma condition and accompanied by Nathaniel, left for London on May 8, 1771. The now-celebrated poetess was welcomed by several dignitaries: abolitionists’ patron the Earl of Dartmouth, poet and activist Baron George Lyttleton, Sir Brook Watson (soon to be the Lord Mayor of London) and philanthropist John Thorton.

Phyllis Wheatley’s poems – Poetry Foundation

To S. M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works

On Imagination

On Being Brought from Africa to America

To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth

BY Phillis Wheatley

Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom’s charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies

She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear’d the Goddess long desir’d,
Sick at the view, she languish’d and expir’d;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress’d complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.

Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?

For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow’r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did’st once deplore.
May heav’nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot’s name,
But to conduct to heav’ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th’ ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

Born 1944

By Jone Johnson Lewis

Davis was hired as an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where she taught Kant, Marxism, and philosophy in Black literature. As a teacher, Davis was popular with both students and faculty members – her first lecture drew well over 1,000 people – but a leak identifying her as a member of the Communist Party, led the UCLA Board of Regents, headed then by Ronald Reagan, to dismiss her. 

Superior Court Judge Jerry Pacht ordered her reinstatement, ruling that the university could not fire Davis simply because she was a member of the Communist Party, but she was fired again the following year, on June 20, 1970, for what the regents said were her incendiary statements, including charges that the regents:

“…killed, brutalized [and] murdered’ the People’s Park demonstrators, and her repeated characterization of the police as ‘pigs,” according to a 1970 story in the New York Times. (One person had been killed and dozens injured during a demonstration at People’s Park in Berkeley on May 15, 1969.) The American Association of University Professors later, in 1972, censured the Board of Regents for Davis’ firings.

Activism

After her dismissal from UCLA, Davis became involved in the case of the Soledad Brothers, a group of Black prisoners at Soledad Prison—George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette—who were charged with the murder of a guard at the prison. Davis and a number of others formed the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee, a group that worked to try to free the prisoners. She soon became the leader of the group.

Angela Davis on a Soledad Brother Demonstration

On Aug. 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson, the 17-year-old brother of George Jackson, kidnapped Marin County Superior Court Judge Harold Haley in an attempt to negotiate the release of the Soledad Brothers. (Haley was presiding over the trial of prisoner James McClain, who was charged in an unrelated incident—the attempted stabbing of a prison guard.) Haley was killed in the failed attempt, but the guns Jonathan Jackson used were registered to Davis, who had purchased them a few days prior to the incident.

Davis was arrested as a suspected conspirator in the attempt. Davis was eventually acquitted of all charges, but for a time she was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list after she fled and went into hiding to avoid arrest.

Posted by AfroMarxist

The FBI issued this wanted flier on Aug. 18, 1970. Angela Davis was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution for murder and kidnapping. 

Davis joined the Communist Party when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 and ran for vice president on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984. Davis was not the first Black woman to run for vice president. That honor goes to Charlotta Bass, a journalist and activist, who ran for vice president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952. According to USA Today, Bass told supporters during her acceptance speech in Chicago:

“This is a historic moment in American political life. Historic for myself, for my people, for all women. For the first time in the history of this nation a political party has chosen a Negro woman for the second highest office in the land.”

And in 1972, Shirley Chisolm, who had been the first Black woman elected to Congress (in 1968), unsuccessfully sought the nomination for vice president on the Democratic ticket. Though “discrimination followed her quest,” according to the National Women’s History Museum, Chisolm entered 12 primaries and garnered 152 votes with a campaign funded in part by the Congressional Black Caucus.

A few years after her two vice-presidential runs, in 1991, Davis left the Communist Party, though she continues to be involved in some of its activities.

As a self-described prison abolitionist, she has played a major role in the push for criminal justice reforms and other resistance to what she calls the ‘prison-industrial complex’. In her essay Public Imprisonment and Private Violence, Davis calls the sexual abuse of women in prison:

“one of the most heinous state-sanctioned human rights violations within the United States today.”

Prison Reform

Davis has continued her work for prison reform over the years. To press her point, Davis speaks at events and academic conferences, such as one held at the University of Virginia in 2009. Thirty scholars and others—including Davis—gathered to discuss “the growth of the prison-industrial complex and racial disparities in the U.S.,” according to UVA Today.

Davis told the paper at the time that:

“(r)acism fuels the prison-industrial complex. The vast disproportion of Black people makes it clear. … Black men are criminalized.”

Davis has advocated for other methods to deal with people who are violent, methods that focus on rehabilitation and restoration. To that end, Davis has also written on the subject, particularly in her 2010 book, Are Prisons Obsolete?

In the book, Davis said:

“During my own career as an anti-prison activist, I have seen the population of U.S. prisons increase with such rapidity that many people in Black, Latino, and Native American communities now have a far greater chance of going to prison than getting an education.”

Noting that she first became involved in anti-prison activism during the 1960s, she argued that it’s time to have a serious national talk about doing away with these institutions that:

“relegate ever-larger numbers of people from racially oppressed communities to an isolated existence marked more by authoritarian regimes, violence, disease, and technologies of seclusion.”

Academia

Davis taught in the Ethnic Studies department at San Francisco State University from 1980 to 1984. Although former Gov. Reagan swore she would never teach again in the University of California system,

“Davis was reinstated after an outcry from academics and civil rights advocates,” according to J.M. Brown of theSanta Cruz Sentinel.

Davis was hired by the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the History of Consciousness Department in 1984 and was made a professor in 1991. 

During her tenure there, she continued to work as an activist and promote women’s rights and racial justice. She has published books on race, class, and gender, including such popular titles as The Meaning of Freedom and Women, Culture & Politics.

When Davis retired from UCSC in 2008, she was named professor emerita. In the years since, she has continued her work for prison abolition, women’s rights, and racial justice. Davis has taught at UCLA and elsewhere as a visiting professor, committed to the importance of:

“liberating minds as well as liberating society.”

Died 21st August  1971

In 1960, at the age of eighteen, George Jackson was accused of stealing $70 from a gas station in Los Angeles. Though there was evidence of his innocence, his court-appointed lawyer maintained that because Jackson had a record (two previous instances of petty crime), he should plead guilty in exchange for a light sentence in the county jail. He did, and received an indeterminate sentence of one year to life.

Jackson spent the next ten years in Soledad Prison, seven and a half of them in solitary confinement. Instead of succumbing to the dehumanization of prison existence, he transformed himself into the leading theoretician of the prison movement and a brilliant writer. Soledad Brother (with a short story of George Jackson’s life and his letters). which contains the letters that he wrote from 1964 to 1970, is his testament.

In his twenty-eighth year, Jackson and two other black inmates — Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette — were falsely accused of murdering a white prison guard. The guard was beaten to death on January 16, 1969, a few days after another white guard shot and killed three black inmates by firing from a tower into the courtyard.

The accused men were brought in chains and shackles to two secret hearings in Salinas County. A third hearing was about to take place when John Cluchette managed to smuggle a note to his mother:

“Help, I’m in trouble.”

With the aid of a state senator, his mother contacted a lawyer, and so commenced one of the most extensive legal defenses in U.S. history. According to their attorneys, Jackson, Drumgo, and Clutchette were charged with murder not because there was any substantial evidence of their guilt, but because they had been previously identified as black militants by the prison authorities.

If convicted, they would face a mandatory death penalty under the California penal code. Within weeks, the case of the Soledad Brothers emerged as a political cause célèbre for all sorts of people demanding change at a time when every American institution was shaken by Black rebellions in more than one hundred cities and the mass movement against the Vietnam War.

August 7, 1970, just a few days after George Jackson was transferred to San Quentin, the case was catapulted to the forefront of national news when his brother, Jonathan, a seventeen-year-old high school student in Pasadena, staged a raid on the Marin County courthouse with a satchelful of handguns, an assault rifle, and a shotgun hidden under his coat.

Educated into a political revolutionary by George, Jonathan invaded the court during a hearing for three black San Quentin inmates, not including his brother, and handed them weapons. As he left with the inmates and five hostages, including the judge, Jonathan demanded that the Soledad Brothers be released within thirty minutes. In the shootout that ensued, Jonathan was gunned down. Of Jonathan, George wrote:

“He was free for a while. I guess that’s more than most of us can expect.

To the Man-Child, Tall, evil, graceful, brighteyed, black man-child — Jonathan Peter Jackson — who died on August 7, 1970, courage in one hand, assault rifle in the other; my brother, comrade, friend — the true revolutionary, the black communist guerrilla in the highest state of development, he died on the trigger, scourge of the unrighteous, soldier of the people; to this terrible man-child and his wonderful mother Georgia Bea, to Angela Y. Davis, my tender experience, I dedicate this collection of letters; to the destruction of their enemies I dedicate my life”.

Soledad Brother, the book, which is dedicated to Jonathan Jackson, was released to critical acclaim in France and the United States, with an introduction by the renowned French dramatist Jean Genet, in the fall of 1970. Less than a year later and just two days before the opening of his trial, George Jackson was shot to death by a tower guard inside San Quentin Prison in a purported escape attempt.

“No Black person,” wrote James Baldwin, “will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”

Soledad Brother went on to become a classic of Black literature and political philosophy, selling more than 400,000 copies before it went out of print twenty years ago.

NOTE: this book is now back in print.