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.

There are two implications of the chattelisation of Africans: (1) the invention of the white race, and (2) the commodification of the African. In the first instance, out of a heterogeneous group of Europeans who did not claim to be of the same race, and …. did not perceive themselves in a common way, there was invented …. a new reality, ‘the white race’. What the slavers knew that they had in common was that they were not black. So long as they could not find any African in their ancestry they could become a part of this new creation, a formation of white people who were a reaction to the blackness of the enslaved Africans. This was an all-class formation, a white person could emerge from any class and be considered more privileged than a black from any class, even if one observed that the black, for example, was a descendant of African royalty.

This is one of a series of blogs this week for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade on 25 March

In his lecture given for International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (held on 23 August) in 2007, Dr Molefi Kete Asante provides a brilliant analysis of how the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ races were created. This lecture was given for the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, which is on 23 August.

Slavery Remembrance Day memorial lecture 2007

Transcript of the Slavery Remembrance Day memorial lecture at Liverpool Town Hall, 21 August 2007. The lecture was given by Dr Molefi Kete Asante, a distinguished author, most recently of ‘The History of Africa’, and professor in the department of African-American Studies at Temple University, USA.

In the lecture Dr Asante looked at the motivations and beliefs behind the transatlantic slave trade.


Whenever I am in the city of Liverpool I feel quite connected to it like I am in an American city, a city with familiar images, histories, and dynamics. In many ways it is like Charleston, Savannah, Baltimore, and my own city, Philadelphia. Of course the link is truly historical but Liverpool has a visceral impact on me, a descendant of enslaved Africans whose ancestry goes to Sudan and Nigeria. I will never know if the ships that took my ancestors to the Americas were built and outfitted here at the Mersey.

Nevertheless I am honoured to be able to give the inaugural lecture for the new International Slavery Museum in this city so intimate with the history of slavery and its abolition. Voices and faces that sent their grand goodbyes to sailors and soldiers as they boarded vessels that would take them to Africa and the Caribbean must haunt the inner chambers of old buildings on some of these ancient streets.

I will now raise another voice, a voice crying from the wilderness, a voice seeking to make sense out of what was senseless. How ironic that a descendant of captured Africans stands now in this place to speak of the awful horror for which this city and nation was one hub.

The degradation of slavery

Slavery is not a passé subject although it has an ancient history. Modern countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas still suffer from relentless and peculiar forms of human bondage, whether it is the Saudi Arabian businessman who holds a Filipino against her will or an American who employs a Mexican and works him for endless hours without relief knowing that the Mexican without legal papers will not report abuses for fear of deportation. In these cases, of course, we have individuals willing to “sell” their labour for food and shelter. There are severe situations of labour stress in economies like China and India where people are forced to work in horrible conditions for little pay. They are often taken advantage of but it is not the same as the slavery that uprooted millions of Africans.

Slavery is a pernicious activity. It was not outlawed in Saudi Arabia until l963 and in Mauritania until l980. Even now in 2007 we still hear and read of cases of human slavery in Sudan and Mauritania. What is it about societies that support and encourage the enslavement of people deemed infidels, inferiors, pagans, or just workers? It is often true today as it was true from the 15th to the l9th centuries that the dissonance between personal greed and personal morality overwhelms the situation. Greed tends to win out. Obviously there is fundamental hypocrisy in all attempts to degrade other humans as less than one’s self. What could be any more revealing than the European whites in America who declared for their own independent rights while they held in bondage more than 100,000 Africans?

Contradictions of the American Patriots in the 18th century

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to pledge his fortune, which included nearly two hundred enslaved Africans, in support of the belief that all men, except Africans, are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This remarkable ability to erase humans, who were considered inferior except when Jefferson took the young black teenager Sally Hemings to his bed, is nothing short of an amazing moral contradiction. Slave-holding founders of the American ideal of liberty based their own drive for independence on high-sounding words and doctrines that they denied to the humans they held in bondage.

Even today one asks, “How could the most beautiful words of liberty be uttered by those who prosecuted the most heinous of crimes against Africans?” Of course, this contradiction did not escape the English Loyalist Governor Thomas Hutchinson who observed that the there seemed to be;

“some discrepancy between the declaration that all men are created equal and the practice of depriving more than a hundred thousand Africans of their rights to liberty.”

The Englishman Thomas Day said it was truly;

“something ridiculous in nature to see an American Patriot signing resolutions of independence with one hand while holding a whip over enslaved Africans with the other” (Wallace, 2006).

The thread that held these contradictions together was the acceptance of the idea that Africans were chattel, property. By the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the English Colonies of North America had experienced more than one hundred years of steady indoctrination in the legal idea that Africans were chattel and on the moral idea that Africans had no rights to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness that whites had to respect.

Dehumanisation of Africans

Thus, the origin of race and racism in the seventeenth century became a basis for categories of subordination and hegemony. Although today we are aware that the race myth is problematic the European colonists and slave traders of the 17th and 18th centuries were sure that there were genetic, and biological differences that constituted whites as superior beings to blacks. Thus, what whites were constructing was something more sinister than ritualistic racial bigotry; they created an oppressive systematic form of dehumanisation of Africans. One might claim that the leading opinion-makers, philosophers, and theologians of the European enslavers organised the category of blackness as property value. We Africans were, in effect, without soul, spirit, emotions, desires, and rights. Chattel could have neither mind nor spirit.

Georg Hegel had argued in the 18th century that spirit was the leading national characteristic because it contained the past and the future in a pregnant moment of the present. All people had spirit, emotion, and desires. Of course, the continental European ideas of Hegel and the subsequent notions of Marx played a role in the articulation of the property idea though ostensibly not about black people. Hegel was the philosopher of importance in Germany during Marx’s youth. Almost all of the universities taught the Hegelian idea of historical development and Marx soon gave up legal studies to pursue philosophy so enamoured was he of the Hegelian devotion to history. In fact, Hegel believed that each period in a nation’s history had its own leading characteristic that included ideas that preceded it as well as being pregnant with ideas that would succeed it. Hegel was able to advance the notion that world history was nothing more than the self-realization of the Absolute, a personification of the world-self.

Marx, many years later would argue that it was not ideas or national personalities that ruled history but the economic conditions of human lives, and that all alienation is economic and social not spiritual or metaphysical. Since slaveholders owned enslaved people these people, who were not human in the sense of rights and aspirations, according to the whites, were simply means of production and capital accumulation. We could have been robots as far as the slaveholders were concerned.

Actually the enslavement was something far more brutally inhuman in its end result because although Africans were defined legally as chattel; Africans could be hurt physically and mentally. One has to understand that the enslaved Africans were not labourers but slaves and slaves in the mind of the capitalists-colonialists were less, much less than labourers. We were, in fact, nothing but chattel. Our alienation was deeper than any social or economic conditions could render humans; we were, in the minds of some whites, sub-human. There is the moral and ethical problem of our situation during the enslavement. Chattel produced chattel. Humans defined as chattel made products and created wealth that is directly linked to the present condition of status in the West.

The impact of the slave trade on British industry

Let me add here the sentiment of Eric Williams in Capitalism and Slavery that the triangular trade stimulated British industry. In fact, Africans, who were not kidnapped, were often purchased with goods manufactured in Britain. Because of British dominance on the seas, Africans were largely transported on British ships. The sugar, cotton, molasses and indigo produced in the Americas by Africans created new British industries. Furthermore, the maintenance of the plantation system, including owners and the enslaved, produced new markets for British companies.

According to Eric Williams by the middle of the 18th century there was hardly any British town of any size that was not in some way connected to the slave trade or colonial rule. Thus, the accumulation of capital in England that helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution was made on the back of the trade. As enslaved Africans made the sugar colonies the sweetest prizes of imperialism in the Caribbean, the Africans in the American South made cotton king of the realm in Manchester. My point is that there is a direct line from the past to today.

A better understanding of chattel slavery

Various forms of human bondage still exist in our world today. As horrendous as they seem to us in our modern sensibilities they are nothing compared to the massive holocaust that struck the African continent during the great disaster called the European slave trade. This search for wealth was equivalent to the madness of a gold rush; it was the iconic capitalist venture of its era, just as information technology might be today. If a European person was not in the game, he or she felt that they were missing out on an opportunity for great wealth. Given the strength of the idea that Africans were property, chattel, that could bring great wealth some Europeans dubbed Africans, ‘Black Gold’.

Let us see now if we can shed more light on the meaning and processing of the term chattel slavery. This term is at the very core of the debasement of Africans that accompanied this massive transfer of people against their wills from one continent to another. Chattel slavery has been rudely misunderstood, treated almost gingerly like it was some decent term to describe a quaint practice that was acceptable to high society.

The demand-for-labour theory

There are reasons for the way chattel has been understood or misunderstood by contemporary society. In the first place, there is this belief that the forced migration of Africans to the Americas and Caribbean was simply the outgrowth of a demand for labour on the part of an expanding Western economy. The theory is that the population decimation of the native peoples in the Americas and Caribbean led to a more intense demand for labour for the production of goods and metals. Labour, of course, is one thing; chattel slavery and entirely different thing.

Thus from the 15th to the 19th century the colonizing empires led by Portugal and Spain, but eventually being dominated by the Dutch and English, found an overwhelming demand for labour that could not be satisfied by the ordinary settlement of European colonists. They were unable to meet the demands of the commercial-agricultural and mineral production.

Although by 1650 there were 800,000 white settlers in the Americas and Caribbean (Rosenblat, l954) the demand for labour persisted and was coexistent with the requirements for larger profits. The whites exploited the native peoples eliminating them at a horrendous rate through work, disease, and sport. Ultimately what this situation led to was a demand for even more labour as Africans were kidnapped, captured, and bargained for on the coast of Africa and transported to areas that became Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua, all of the major islands and many of the minor islands in the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States. Such massive removal of Africans from Africa set the foundation for the extensive African Diaspora. Despite the risks to themselves and their human cargo, the captains of the ships believed that their activities would increase their wealth. So they did it without thought for themselves and certainly with little thought for the lives of Africans whose suffering during the Middle Passage, that horrendous crossing between Africa and America, has been described by numerous writers (Asante, 2007).

According to the demand-for-labour theory, because Europeans, with the exception of some northern Europeans, did not migrate in high enough numbers due to the cost of transportation and resettlement, the only way that the colonies could survive was to turn to the enslavement of Africans. While slavery was not unknown in Europe it is safe to say that it was more common in Eastern and Southern Europe than it was in Northern Europe prior to the 16th century. The Iberian peninsula actively practiced slavery during this time but by the 15th century even in Spain there was a waning of the enslavement of Arabs, Moors, Jews, Berbers and Slavs. Africa was relatively unexploited; there had been religious enslavement, the Arab slave trade, prior to the 16th century, but there was no culture of slavery in Africa, and no chattel slavery.

The difference between slavery and serfdom

The English word slave comes from the Middle English sclave which originates in the Old French esclave, which can be found in the Medieval Latin sclavus and this term is related to the Greek sklabos, from sklabenoi, Slavs, of Slavic origin. Now this word sklabenoi is closely linked to the Old Russian Slovene. It is thought that the contemporary word slave is directly related to the Slavic people, many of whom were sold into slavery.

I think that I should point out that Europe also practiced indentureship and serfdom. Neither of these forms of service, one with a time period attached to it, and the other with land attached to it, could be compared to the chattel slavery of Africans.

Serfdom is not the same as slavery. Sometimes this is confused in the minds of the contemporary person. The current usage of the term chattel slavery is not synonymous with serfdom. They have a fundamental difference that brings me closer to my main point.

European serfs were considered to have rights because they were human beings. Enslaved Africans were people who had neither rights nor freedom of movement, and were not paid for their labour because they were seen as ‘things’. Aside from food and shelter the enslaver had no responsibility to the enslaved, but would allow the enslaved no space to have responsibility for himself or herself.

Now let us turn the screws a little bit tighter on chattel. One reason I insist on speaking of the enslavement of Africans as chattel slavery rather than slavery is because in the English language it is possible to confuse a certain idea of servitude with slavery. An African who was enslaved had no personal or private rights and was expressly the property of another person to be held, used, or abused as the owner saw fit. Imagine the hell of this predicament and you are on the edge of the nightmare of chattel slavery.

Events contributing to the ideological foundation of chattel slavery

Two events in the British occupied areas of the Caribbean and the Americas must be seen as contributing to the ideological foundation of chattel slavery. The first event was in Barbados and the second was in South Carolina. Slavery was established in Barbados in l636 but it would take nearly thirty more years for the colonists to refine their legal basis. Indeed the Barbadian Slave Code of 1661 was the first code establishing the English legal base for slavery in the Caribbean. It was adopted by the American colony of South Carolina in l696 introducing the basic guidelines for slavery in British North America. Ten years earlier in l686 South Carolina had established a slave’s position as freehold property which meant that such individual as property could not be moved or sold from the estate. This was similar to serfdom in medieval Europe. However, by the time South Carolina adopted the ideas of the Barbadian Slave Code the African had been degraded to chattel giving the enslaver absolute control and absolute ownership. Actually the South Carolina law meant that enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and mulattoes could be bought and sold like any property and the condition of their children would also remain that of the enslaved. In a more refined ideological sense, chattel kept producing chattel, even when it was one human giving birth to another.

Virginia had made its own law in l662 creating the status of chattel for Africans providing that they were slaves for life and that their condition as slaves was transmitted to their posterity. Supposedly the slave status passed to descendants through the mother as in the Virginia 1662 statute that read as follows:

“All children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother” (Hening, l819, 3:252).

However, the colony of Maryland provided in 1664:

“That whatsoever free-born English woman shall intermarry with any slave shall serve the master of such slave during the life of her husband; and that all the issue of such free-born women, so married shall be slaves as their fathers were.”

So in some cases the condition of the mother, if she were white and free-born, was changed to one of enslavement so that the children would continue to be enslaved. They would, of course, take the condition of the father and be chattel as well. I think what you can see is that a game was being played here. The enslavers knew that Africans were human and knew that a white could be married to an African or have children by an African woman, but to maintain the ideological subterfuge these situations had to be redefined inside of the slave code itself. A white woman could become by virtue of her marriage to a black man, black herself. However, a white man who had children by a black woman remained triumphantly white, although his children were chattel.

But where does this idea of ownership of a person begin?

The status of chattel slaves

The word ‘chattel’ is akin to the word ‘cattle’ and in fact both words share a common origin in Medieval Latin and Old French. The word capital comes from the same root.

Chattel slavery means that one person has total ownership of another. There are two basic forms of chattel, domestic chattel, with menial household duties and productive chattel, working in the fields or mines. Those closest to the enslaver by virtue of space were the domestics and they were usually accorded a higher status in slave society. But to say higher status is not to say much when the idea of chattel slavery was that the human was not a human but a thing. I do not say that the human was dehumanized because I do not hold that such is possible, but what is possible is to reduce another person in your own mind to the level of a cow, dog, cat, or chair. This is the meaning of chattel. As you would not consult your dog, you would not consult a chattel slave. As you would not concern yourself with the comfort of a tool, a plough or a hammer, you would not concern yourself with an enslaved African’s comfort. What is chattel is not human in the mind of the enslaver. A chattel could not have protection under law although there were enough codes to regulate the use of the enslaved.

Laws were enacted to strip the enslaved of all protection of law. There was hardly any restraint on the enslaver’s will, lust, and physical force. If a white person murdered an enslaved person it was only a misdemeanour punishable by a small fine, sort of a nuisance tax. An enslaved person could only attack a white person in defence of his own enslaver’s life. Africans were executed for plotting their own freedom, for burning corn in the fields or stacks of rice or teaching reading and writing to another African.

The Negro Act of 1740 in South Carolina also established death for teaching another African “the knowledge of any poisonous root, plant, or herb.” Since Africans were chattel laws had to be passed to insist that Africans be dressed. Some enslavers refused to clothe the enslaved. This is one of the dubious achievements of the Barbadian Slave Code. Enslavers complained but they had to dress their slaves plus it was considered quite erotic to see well-developed young African men and women walking around in the nude. But if chattel had to be dressed, what kind of fabric had to be used. The law said that slaves could not dress “above the condition of slaves” and that their clothes could only be made from a list of coarse fabrics. Furthermore, since Africans were chattel there was no reason for them to assemble. Indeed, those Africans in violation of these provisions were subject to flogging.

Thus, Africans who had been brought to the slave colonies during the 16th century had uncertain legal status. Some were even considered indentured servants; others could own slaves themselves. However, by the middle of the 17th century Africans who entered the Caribbean and the Americas were firmly established as chattel property.

The Law of the Admiralty

European capitalism and the European slave trade were the twin engines of world dominance from the late 1400s through the second half of the 20th century. The fact of the matter was that while labour was necessary for the sugar, tobacco, and cotton plantations, slave labour was unnecessary, except if one wanted to have excessive profits, greed without limits. In the process human beings from Africa were trampled under foot and called chattel, one more piece of property to go with the real estate, firearms, and textiles that became keys to the triangular trade. No wonder it was an accepted practice for European sea captains on the way from Africa to the Americas to throw their human cargo overboard if they observed that they were low on food or potable water.

The British admiralty made the British Isles not only the master of the sea but also the master of the slave trade. One might reasonably argue that the Law of the Admiralty, often called Maritime Law, figured in the legal definitions used in the Barbadian Slave Code. There was some legitimacy or, at least, slave owners assumed legitimacy when it came to their plantations in Barbados.

Since the Law of the Admiralty relates to events happening on the sea or in regard to the spoils of war, such as capture, rebellion or mutiny and property, those who landed their vessels in the Caribbean or in the Americas took the law into their own hands. In fact, I believe that the notion of command enforcement to maintain discipline on a ship was transferred to land.

Transferring Maritime Law onto land

There were two aspects to this law: (1) how to control the crew in the middle of the sea, and (2) how to control goods, prizes, property, real and personal. Of course, since we are talking about a landed situation in Barbados the idea of punishment was also included when it came to the enslaved Africans. We have rarely looked at chattel within the context of Maritime Law that involves navigation and commerce, and yet surely the Law of the Admiralty that obtained on the sea often spilled over to the land.

Defined as ‘things’ we Africans had no rights either on the sea or on land; we were without any protection although the captains of the ships became essentially the masters of all they surveyed. When one thinks of the fact that, to a large degree, Admiralty Law emerged out of the difficult conditions of sea-faring where the crew had no right to privacy, to trial by jury, or anything else considered rights, it is easy to see how this legacy from Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian influenced the creation of rules, laws governing the treatment of Africans. Privileges existed by the will of the captain; there could be no rights under this type of jurisdiction. The only response to this type of situation by an aggrieved or group of aggrieved was to mutiny, that is, to rebel against the privileged position of the Captain. This was usually considered reason enough for execution if the mutiny failed. The history of rebellions of Africans in the Americas is long, bloody, and often heroic as in the cases of Yanga of Mexico, Nat Turner of the United States, Nanny of Jamaica, and Zumba of Brazil.

The implications of the chattelisation of Africans

There are two implications of the chattelisation of Africans: (1) the invention of the white race, and (2) the commodification of the African. In the first instance, out of a heterogeneous group of Europeans who did not claim to be of the same race, and as Smedley understood, did not perceive themselves in a common way, there was invented, Allen argued, a new reality, “the white race” (Smedley, 1999; Allen, 1997). What the slavers knew that they had in common was that they were not black. So long as they could not find any African in their ancestry they could become a part of this new creation, a formation of white people who were a reaction to the blackness of the enslaved Africans. This was an all-class formation, a white person could emerge from any class and be considered more privileged than a black from any class, even if one observed that the black, for example, was a descendant of African royalty.

But Africans were troublesome chattel, a fact that made a lie of the idea that we were not human and could not think. In many ways enslaved Africans assaulted the system of enslavement and sought to bring the system down.

Of course, in recent years what we have now seen is that whiteness has become a property in the same racist societies that gave us blacks as chattel property (Feagin, 1997). There is a great difference between the two forms of property, however. In the case of the property rights of whiteness one is speaking of privilege based on the acquisition of whiteness. In the United States there was a time when only English, German, and Scandinavian were whites. Over the centuries Italians, Irish, Hungarians, Jews, and Turks have become white, meaning essentially that they have participated in the privilege structure of a racist society.

On the other hand, the commodification of Africans established a pattern that would become the fundamental method of transferring wealth in a capitalist society. Who could accumulate wealth by dispossessing Africans? The whites could do it because they had acquired the privilege of whiteness regardless of their origins by virtue of the chattelisation of Africans. Thus, accumulation by dispossession became one of the principal ways Africans in the United States were systematically constrained and restrained, economically, socially, and psychologically.

Vast wealth from the European slave trade fuelled the British economy at the same time that Africans were being reduced to things. A commodity could have no rights, no feeling, no sentiments, no religion, and no thoughts. While it is good and decent that this year Britain celebrates the bicentennial of the British abolition of the slave trade by marking the end of slavery with stamps, exhibitions, speeches, and memorial services, one still asks, if slavery was wrong, irreligious, and immoral in l807, why not in 1707 or 1657?

One cannot truly see the value of abolition without discovering what it was that was abolished. Prior to 1807 the British Parliament passed numerous laws and regulations to encourage and support the trade in human beings. Yes, of course, one could argue that this was before the giants of abolition really transformed public opinion. Nevertheless, one cannot forget, even if one wanted to, that here in Liverpool the economy thrived on the building of slave ships and the transport of Africans from the continent to the Americas. Nothing is more authentic at this moment than the recognition that a great wrong was done and that Liverpool stood in the centre of the chaos. However, today with the new museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery Liverpool has leaped ahead of other cities in dealing with its troublesome past. By doing so, the people of this city and this region have gone a long way toward repairing the damage that was done by the busy slavers (Asante, 2003). Forward Ever! Backwards Never!

Further readings

  • Allen, T. The Invention of the White Race. New York: Verson, 1997
  • Asante, Molefi Kete. Erasing Racism. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2003
  • Asante, Molefi Kete, The History of Africa. London: Routledge, 2007
  • Feagin, Joseph. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New York: Routledge, 1997
  • Harris, C. I. Whiteness as Property. Harvard Law Review, l06: l707-1791
  • Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the Frist Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. 13 volumes. Richmond: W. Gray Printers, l819. 3:252
  • Rosenblat, Angel. La poblacion indignes y el mestizaje en America. Vol. 1, Buenos Aires, l954
  • Smedley, Audrey. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview. Boulder: Westview, 1999
  • Wallace, Elizabeth Kowaleski. The British Slave Trade and Public Memory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006

Dr Molefi Kete Asante

Dr Molefi Kete Asante is the most published scholar of African descent. His 65 books include ‘The History of Africa: The Quest for Eternal Harmony’, ‘An Afrocentric Manifesto’ and ‘African American History: A Journey of Liberation’.

Picture credit

The photograph at the top of this page shows Dr Molefi Kete Asante © Dr Molefi Kete Asante.

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.


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

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

This larger than life character was a fire eater in a circus, a sailor, a boxer, a model in Germany where he was imprisoned in WW1, but most of all he was the most famous ‘Horse Race Tipster’ in Britain, I love the stories below found on the website My Brighton and Hove, they sum up this larger than life character perfectly.

By Colin Southwood – My Brighton & Hove

My first recollection of Prince Monolulu (1880-1965) was as a six year old boy in the early fifties when my grandfather used me to take to the Brighton races with him. Part of the excitement for me was the trolley bus ride up Elm Groove, my grandfather and me sitting on the top deck looking at all the punters making their way laboriously up the steep hill on a summer’s day.

A giant black man

To a six year old lad the first sight of him was amazing, there was this giant black man in a brightly coloured outfit with large coloured ostrich feathered plumes from his hat. The first sighting made all the more exciting when my grandfather told me he was a Zulu Prince from Africa!  At six years old I had never seen a black man before let alone a black prince!

A tipster in fancy dress

My grandfather was a regular visitor to Brighton race course and knew him well.  On the first occasion my grandfather introduced me to him I remember standing there petrified!   Fifty odd years later I can still see the man and him shouting, “I Gotta Horse” to anyone that would listen as he strode around the course in his fancy costume and plumes.

The most famous black man

Ras Prince Monolulu was the most famous black man in Britain. Between the wars, he was a national icon renowned for his eccentricity, a racing tipster of such theatricality that even in the days when newspapers carried few photographs and television was in its infancy, he was still the most recognisable racing personality other than the top jockeys.

Catchphrase – “I gotta horse!”

Everyone knew that he wore a bizarre costume of massive baggy trousers, and a headdress of ostrich feathers atop ornate waistcoats, and colourful jackets. Prince Monolulu would be at all the important race meetings where he would sell his tipping sheets in envelopes. He was very funny, and would have the crowds in stitches with his banter – just like a market trader, only with much more style. His catchphrase “I Gotta Horse” guaranteed him a place in most newsreels of the day featuring racing.

Of Scottish descent

He claimed to be the chief of the Falasha tribe of Abyssinia, but in reality he came from Guyana, as it is now and was of Scottish descent – his real name was Peter Carl Mackay. According to his memoirs, called, funnily enough, “I Gotta Horse”, he started out as a sailor but re-invented himself as a Prince after being press-ganged aboard an American ship in 1902.

He was told princes were important people, and he figured a prince wouldn’t be shanghaied again. He was soon off round the world, eating fire in a travelling circus, working in Germany as a model and boxing in France, pretending to be an opera singer in Russia, and becoming a fortune-teller in Italy.

Battle against racist attitudes

Interned in a German camp during the First World War, he emerged to become Britain’s most famous racing tipster – unlike some of today’s TV tipsters he was funnier, louder and considerably more accurate with his tips!  

Indeed he came to prominence because of an extraordinary coup in the 1920 Derby. Virtually alone among tipsters he plumped for ‘Spion Kop’ the 100-6 outsider which romped home in record time to win him £8,000 – a fortune in those days. His career was made; soon no major race meeting was complete without a visit from the Prince and his envelopes of tips.  He was a figure of fun, yes, but he also contributed in his own uniquely humorous way to the battle against racist attitudes.

First black man on TV

Such was his fame that in 1936 he achieved a slice of immortality – on 2nd. November in that year, the BBC began its television service and Prince Ras Monolulu was the first black person to appear on screen on that very first day of British television broadcasting. He himself estimated that between 1919 and 1950, he made and lost up to £150,000 on the Turf, and while his health and fortunes declined in the late 1950s he was still a much-loved character.

Remembered as an amazing man

Images courtesy of Mashable 1920s – 1950s: Ras Prince Monolulu

Prince Monolulu was always himself as a bit of a ladies man and was believed to have fathered many children and married several times. Once was to the actress, Nellie Adkins on the 21st August 1931. When he died of cancer on the 14th February 1965 at the age of 84, the Daily Telegraph and many other newspapers carried full obituaries of this amazing man.  Prince Monolulu, the man who had brought a ray of sunshine to the punters at many race courses throughout Britain regardless if they won or lost!

Read more

Ras Prince Monolulu BBC in 2010 and here in BBC Sports in October 2020

Jeffrey Green’s blog pictures him in 1957 with Dutch fashion models

Short biography in Gambling online news

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………


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.


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.”


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.”