This month is Black History Month – a celebration of our beautiful blackness, heritage and culture. It was begun as Negro History Week by a black academic named Dr Carter G. Woodson in 1926. His aim back then was to further the study of African American history. After all, up to that point, for the most part, there was hardly enough being told and examined about African Americans. Furthermore, much of the story was being told by, and from, the perspective of non-African Americans. He sought to correct that anomaly. Negro History Week eventually morphed into Black History Month by 1969, and in 1976, US President Ford officially recognised the celebration and called on all Americans to “Seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Woodson chose the month of February, because it was the birthday month of two great men in the lives of African Americans and Black people everywhere. We’re referring to Abraham Lincoln (12t th.) and Frederick Douglass (14th.).
Of course, notwithstanding the fact that the celebration called Black History Month began in the United States, it is a celebration for the entire African diaspora. All ah we is one! Our struggle against racism and injustice and exploitation is worldwide and extant. As the great Reverend Dr Martin Luther King wrote in his famous letter from Birmingham jail in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” All ah we is one – whether we happen to find ourselves in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Alabama, Georgia, Belize, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Europe or the Caribbean. Seems, the calypsonian, Black Stalin, knew that of which he sang when he declared that, “We are from the same place, we took the same trip, aboard the same ship.” We were merely dropped off at different points in the so-called “New World”by the wretched slavers. Some of our ancestors were thrown overboard for insurance money. (See the Zong massacre of 1781 where the diabolical crew of the slave ship, Zong, threw some 130 alive Africans overboard to preserve their dwindling water supply and claim compensation).
To be sure, tens of thousands of other enslaved Africans who perished in the hellish holds of the slaver ships during that nightmare trans-Atlantic voyage were also unceremoniously pitched overboard. And yes, the slavers claimed insurance, as did the Gregson Slave Trading syndicate, the owners of the infamous Zong. It is said that during the years of the trans-Atlantic crossing, sharks changed their feeding habits, following the slaver ships in the expectation that human bodies would be tossed overboard, as they always were. The institution of the slave trade and slavery is the greatest crime against humanity! And reparations are due! To all ah we!
Meanwhile, consider the following, if you will. It was Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican, who inspired Patrice Lumumba and a number of freedom-yearning African leaders like Nelson Mandela and Jomo Kenyatta to fight for control of their destiny. He also inspired the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and earlier American black leaders to stand up and fight for self-determination and justice. In fact, Dr King once said of Garvey, “He was the first man to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.” Perhaps that’s why King wrote, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Consider Garvey’s words to similar young fighters for a betterment here in our fair State, which he visited, not once, but twice, the latter at the invitation of Harold Tobias Wilson, owner of THE MAGNET newspaper. His soaring rhetoric inspired men like Papa Bird, Luther George, the Hurst brothers, Ernest Williams, Donald and George Sheppard and so on and so forth, at the Anglican Schoolroom on the evening of November 1, 1937. Exhorted Garvey in a fiery oration dubbed, THE POWER OF MAN TO SAVE HIMSELF: “Rise up you mighty race! You can accomplish whatever you dare . . .God did not give man life to humiliate it, but to dignify it. Everyman’s life should be full of joy and happiness, and if man didn’t get his share, he had himself to blame. . . . I want to arouse millions of people of my race to climb upwards, to realise how earnest life is, and to postulate a civilization of their own. Because, if others are allowed to fix up the type of civilization for us, then the members of my race will be left in a state of ‘lead kindly light’” [LUTHER GEORGE, pgs. 119 -127, Ambassador Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst]
Garvey’s Pan-Africanism – the noble notion that we are all one, “And we ought to encourage and strengthen the bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diasporic ethnic groups of African descent” (Wikipedia), can be found in the songs of young reggae artists like Peter Tosh’s 1977 hit, AFRICAN, and Bob Marley’s ZIMBABWE, BLACK MAN REDEMPTION, BUFFALO SOLDIER and REDEMPTION SONG. Our struggle is the same, and it continues . . .
Consider how our CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) inspired the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) and the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, (H.R.40), which former representative John Conyers, and a number of reparationist-minded Congressmen and women, have been championing in the US Congress for some time. In fact, Dr Ron Daniels of NAARC, who visited Antigua about two years ago, has credited our reparations movement here in the Caribbean with providing the impetus for a revived reparations thrust in America. NAARC has adopted the CRC’s 10-point reparations plan.
With that in mind, it is clear that the Black leaders in America, and Africa, and the Caribbean are leaders for the entire Black world. That’s why we revere and draw inspiration from Bishop Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Reverend Al Sharpton, Rosa Parks, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, former US President Barack Obama, Dr Walter Rodney, Desmond Trotter, and so on and so forth. But we too have some heroes here in Antigua and Barbuda who played a pivotal part in our struggle. Many of them remain unheralded and unsung. For this Black History Month, we here at NEWSCO will be doing our bit to ensure that inspiring portions of their stories are told. (Continued in tomorrow’s editorial)
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