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Posts tagged "history"

The World War I in Africa Project Sheds Light On An Often Forgotten Part of History.

As a student of history for all my years of secondary education, I can’t say that I never learned about World War I, the events leading up to it as well as the aftermath it had on Europe and to some extent the United States. Perhaps we never delved into it in quite as much depth as we did World War II, but even then, I’d be hard-pressed to think of time where my history teacher (bless her soul) ever mentioned the impact that the First World War had on Africa and Africans. Such a truth wouldn’t concern me if the circumstances were different; if I wasn’t at a school in an African country, if I weren’t an African myself, if I wasn’t one of five black students in a history class of over 20, if I didn’t come from a country that was colonized by the British (who, as history goes, love war).

But all these things were and still are a part of who I am, and it is for these reasons – and so many more, that the World War I in Africa project is incredibly important learning for me. Even beyond the personal connection of history and heritage, the ignorance of many to the involvement of Africans in World War I and the integral roles the played speak to a much broader concern of the omission and reduction of black people and Africans in many important events in Western history.

It’s been 100 years since the First World War began. 100 years since the first shot fired by British troops occurred in what is today known as Togo, on August 7th, 1914. 100 years gone by and still, the world is yet to actively include and universally commemorate the lives of the estimated two million Africans who in some way contributed to the efforts of their colonial empires during this bitter war of the 1910s. World War I was indeed what its title refers to it as – a war that saw involvement on a global scale.

From the Gold Coast to German East Africa, Algeria to the southernmost tip of Africa, a new initiative is bringing to light the forgotten ways in which European politics brought the Great War to African homes. Through the efforts of World War I in Africa project, we are provided with a multimedia database that both highlights and archives the ways in which African lives were affected by a war they had no agency in. Because what happens in Africa should be told around the world.

World War I in Africa.

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Consider the history of borders. Starting with the Berlin Conference of 1884 when seven European countries carved out their stakes on the continent, Africa was gradually broken down into an illogical clutter of nation-states. The borders of these states had no regard for historical groupings and identities, and shifted depending on what was most politically and economically expedient for the colonising country. At different points during the first half of the century, for example, Burkina Faso was part of Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Mali and Senegal, before eventually coagulating as the Republic of Upper Volta.

In the early 1960s, as more African states gained “independence” and moved towards establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, border blues drove one of the earliest rifts in continental politics. The “Casablanca group” of states led by Kwame Nkrumah advocated a radical approach to African unification, while the “Monrovia group” led by Leopold Senghor called for a more conservative approach, one that held the borders of nation-states in higher esteem.

The Monrovia group won, and one of the first resolutions of the OAU was to endorse colonial borders. Today, there are only a few African countries – Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda and Seychelles – that allow all Africans either to enter without visas or to obtain visas upon arrival. For the rest, fellow Africans have to jump through hoops whose variations in complexity often reflect larger political dynamics. It seems that what has infiltrated our psyche even deeper than colonial geography is the spirit that inspired the origin of borders: perceptions of superiority and inferiority, the violence of competition for resources, selective openness determined by levels of perceived threat and historical animosity. And questions of historical clarity are chronically present.

Where did the vision of division come from? How does it stay alive? Who teaches you to hate your neighbour? Official classifications along invisible lines were both symptoms and tools of oppression throughout the 20th century. In apartheid South Africa, pass books determined where and when Africans had the right to exist in their own land. In Rwanda, Belgium introduced identity documents with “ethnic” classifications, to nurture divisions in the incubator of rigid bureaucracy. Across the continent, people put arbitrary colonial divisions on paper and called them passports.

Whether immigrating, emigrating or just passing through, Africans suffer among the greatest indignities of cross-border travel, abroad and on the continent. Paula Akugizibwe recounts how the hand-me-down tools of divide and rule perpetuate the abuse.

Reminds me of this quote, “It’s bad enough … when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That’s the end, really, that’s the end.”
― Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions.

Watch more from this Baldwin discussion.

Vintage cover photos of magazines that catered specifically to black women. 


Ancient Egyptians Used Meteorites For Jewelry

Open University (OU) and University of Manchester researchers wrote in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science that they found proof that ancient Egyptians used meteorites to make accessories.

In 1911, archaeologists dug up strings of iron beads at the Gerzeh cemetery, about 43 miles south of Cairo. The Gerzeh bead is the earliest discovered use of iron by the Egyptians, dating back from 3350 to 3600 BC. The bead was originally thought to be from a meteorite based on its composition of nickel-rich iron, but scientists challenged this theory back in the 1980s. However, the latest research places this theory back on top.

The scientists used a combination of electron microscope and X-ray CT scanner analyses to demonstrate that the nickel-rich chemical composition of the bead confirms its meteorite origins.

Philip Withers, a professor of materials science at University of Manchester, said meteorites have a unique microstructural and chemical fingerprint because they cooled incredibly slowly as they traveled through space. He said it was interesting to find that fingerprint in the Gerzeh bead.

“This research highlights the application of modern technology to ancient materials not only to understand meteorites better but also to help us understand what ancient cultures considered these materials to be and the importance they placed upon them,” said Open University Project Officer Diane Johnson, who led the study.

 -Read More -

DOCUMENTARY: “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords.”

In a world where segregation was back both by laws and social attitudes, it’s no surprise that the mainstream press in the United States served as a reflection of these ills.

Knowing firsthand the impact of words and images as weapons against their welfare, black people in the United States knew that left in the hands of racist publications, their representation, history, culture and identities would forever be at stake. Starting with communities and individuals of free black people in the 1800s, to the birth of more contemporary publications like Ebony, the power of images and the written word of black people by black people, and in the interests of black people, has always been an act of self-preservation.

This documentary brings to light a powerful and engaging account of American history that has been virtually forgotten: the story of the pioneering black newspapermen and women who gave voice to black America. 

Watch it here.


Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Alice Coachman Davis who passed away on July 14, 2014.

Specializing in high jump, Davis became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1948 London games, aged 25.She was also the only female American athlete to win gold in track and field at the same tournament.

Davis, who suffered a stroke in recent months, died aged 90 in her hometown of Albany, Georgia.

Watch her incredible jump here.

Speakers For The Dead: Documentary about the original black settlers of Priceville, Ontario Canada.

When Irish settlers first moved to the area now known as Priceville in Ontario Canada, to their surprise, they found a community of black people already living there.

This documentary reveals some of the hidden history of black people in Canada.

In the 1930s in rural Ontario, a farmer buried the tombstones of a black cemetery to make way for a potato patch. In the 1980s, descendants of the original settlers, Black and White, came together to restore the cemetery, but there were hidden truths no one wanted to discuss.

Deep racial wounds were opened. Scenes of the cemetery excavation, interviews with residents and re-enactments—including one of a baseball game where a broken headstone is used for home plate—add to the film’s emotional intensity.

By Jennifer Holness, & David Sutherland, 2000


History Lesson || Why Women Of Color In The 1800s Were Banned From Wearing Their Hair Out In Public 
BGLH writes:
“Did you know that in late 18th century Louisiana, black and multiracial women were ordered to cover their hair in public?” My sister asked me.
“WOW. Really?” I replied.
I’d probably heard of this in one of my black studies classes in undergrad, but who remembers everything they’ve been taught? Besides, this information felt instantly relevant and I was absolutely intrigued.
With a little digging I found that there was in fact a “law” of sorts that demanded women of color in Louisiana to cover their hair with a fabric cloth starting in 1789 as a part of what was called the Bando du buen gobierno (Edict for Good Government).  What these rules were meant to do was try to curtail the growing influence of the free black population and keep the social order of the time. The edict included sections specifically about the changing of certain “unacceptable” behaviors of the free black women in the colony including putting an end to what he and others believed to be the overly ostentatious hairstyles of these ladies which drew the attention of white men, and the jealousy of white women. These rules are called the “Tignon Laws” A tignon (pronounced “tiyon”) is a headdress.
Read more here.


History Lesson || Why Women Of Color In The 1800s Were Banned From Wearing Their Hair Out In Public

BGLH writes:

“Did you know that in late 18th century Louisiana, black and multiracial women were ordered to cover their hair in public?” My sister asked me.

“WOW. Really?” I replied.

I’d probably heard of this in one of my black studies classes in undergrad, but who remembers everything they’ve been taught? Besides, this information felt instantly relevant and I was absolutely intrigued.

With a little digging I found that there was in fact a “law” of sorts that demanded women of color in Louisiana to cover their hair with a fabric cloth starting in 1789 as a part of what was called the Bando du buen gobierno (Edict for Good Government).  What these rules were meant to do was try to curtail the growing influence of the free black population and keep the social order of the time. The edict included sections specifically about the changing of certain “unacceptable” behaviors of the free black women in the colony including putting an end to what he and others believed to be the overly ostentatious hairstyles of these ladies which drew the attention of white men, and the jealousy of white women. These rules are called the “Tignon Laws” A tignon (pronounced “tiyon”) is a headdress.

Read more here.

(via abstrackafricana)

Brazilian Football, Jorge Ben and the Story of “Fio Maravilha”.

How I came to know of this somewhat lesser known iconic moment in Brazilian football history is a story that’s as short, sweet and somewhat romantic as the event itself. 

Anyone that knows me knows that ever since discovering his music, I’ve had a serious love affair with Jorge Ben that I see no end to. Nestled amongst his bigger and better known songs such as Taj Mahal (sampled illegally by Rod Stewart), Mas, Que Nada! (covered famously by Sergio Mendes), Pais Tropical (a tribute to his native Brazil) and his upbeat and catchy Take It Easy My Brother Charles that sees him singing partially in English, are a range of other songs that highlight and pay tribute to Afro-Brazilian legends.

There’s Xica Da Silva, the iconic story of an African and Portuguese Brazilian woman who, despite being born into enslavement, was able to accumulate wealth, power and influence in 18th century Brazilian society. The song appeared of Ben’s equally iconic África Brasil album. Then, there’s his dedication to another African victim of enslavement in Brazil, Zumbi dos Palmares who was the last of the leaders of the Quilombo dos Palmares, a settlement set up by and for fugitive enslaved men, women and children, in the present-day state of Alagoas, Brazil. Both songs are brilliant tributes and Ben’s lyrical storytelling style brings these portions of history to life with a richness that makes them unforgettable.

However, the song that to me shows the brilliance of Jorge Ben’s musical and songwriting capabilities comes in the form of his 1972-penned ode to João Batista de Sales, otherwise known as Fio Maravilha. The song, barely two minutes in length, captures the most important moment in the short-lived football career of De Sales.

Written before the release of África Brasil in 1976, the song idealizes a friendly game between Flamengo, De Sales’ team, and Benfica in the famous Maracanã stadium that was attended by Jorge Ben.  Omitted from Flamengo’s starting lineup by coach Mário Zagallo, De Sales was put on the field after chants from the crowd demanded he play. By the second half, the game was still at 0-0, but close to the 80th minute, De Sales came through for the Flamengo’s scoring the only goal of the game (one that Jorge Ben describes as ‘celestial’) that ended in a 1-0 victory for his team. To Jorge Ben, this victory went beyond the personal. It was another victory for Black Brazil.

Since then, De Sales has played for teams in both Brazil and the United States where he currently resides and coaches football. The song has ensured that that legendary feat by De Sales will never be forgotten as it remains a favourite by fans of Jorge Ben, De Sales and the Flamengo football club.

Listen to the original, a live version, and a version performed with Gilberto Gil.

Zwarte Piet: A Tradition of Blackface in The Netherlands.

The Netherlands are one step closer to the possibility of winning the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup. Continuing with our posts related to the World Cup and learning more about the African diaspora, we decided to look at one of the country’s not-so-great cultural traditions.

The Netherlands is a country popularly known for its tulips and windmills, it’s legalization of marijuana and…for brutally colonising South Africa. But during the month of December when good cheer is supposed to be spread by all, a racist tradition dating back to the late 1800s rears its ugly head.

In a book published in 1850 and written by Jan Schenkman, Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”), the foundation of a Christmas tradition where the Dutch paint their faces black, emphasize their often non-existent lips with red lipstick, wear kinky-textured wigs and Renaissance period attire, was birthed through a character known as ‘Zwarte Piet’. Although not named in Schenkman’s book, the name ‘Pieter’ would not appear in print until the publication of the 1891 book Het Feest van Sinterklaas, the Amsterdam-based primary school teacher depicted Saint Nicholas’ ‘servant’ as a young page with dark skin and wearing clothes typically associated with Moors at the time. The book stayed in print for a hundred years, until 1950.

This Dutch folklore character was portrayed as a ‘helper’ of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), also known as Saint Nicholas. According to some depictions in medieval European folklore, Saint Nicholas “is sometimes presented as taming a chained devil, who may or may not be black”, and who some allude to being changed to represent a Moor, essentially Zwarte Piet, in post 19th century Germanic European folk literature.  Part of this change came about as both teachers and clergymen became concerned with the way Sinterklaas, who was essentially a saint, was being portrayed. Folklore often depicted Saint Nicholas as some sort of a boogeyman who scolded bad children and made them fearful of him. Sinterklaas had more terrifying qualities than good ones, most of which were later transferred to Zwarte Piet.

Thus, what some say began as a ‘black devil’ was later transformed into a more human form, at the same time that it dehumanized and demonized the very people it portrayed.

As the years wore on, Zwarte Piet became more and more of a docile and childlike character who was not only Santa’s helper, but a ‘friend’ to young children. Perhaps one can say that the transformation of Zwarte Piet’s characteristics also mirrored the changing attitudes of this part of Europe to black people and Africa(ns). Where during the height of colonisation, black people were portrayed as savages and animals to be tamed, by the early 20th century, European colonists began to adopt patronising attitudes towards Africa, portraying Africans as child-like and in need of saving through the adoption of Western culture. The relationship between Saint Nicholas and Zwarte Piet seems to be a clear demonstration of this - the white god-like saviour rearing the black infant-like individual who will forever be in servitude to their false father-figure.

I’m not entirely sure when the culture of blackface in line with Zwarte Piet came about but it seems to have taken flight in the early 20th century as Piet became a much more ‘docile’ character to the Dutch public. With this popularity came the twisted celebration of European racism, one that many Dutch seem to think is harmless. According to a 2013 survey, 92% of the Dutch public don’t perceive Zwarte Piet as racist or associate him with slavery, and 91% are opposed to altering the character’s appearance.

With immigration increasing in the Netherlands, and as more and more people pay attention to this cultural ‘celebration’, there have been a number of anti-Zwarte Piet protests.

The largest Sinterklaas celebration in Western Canada, in New Westminster, British Columbia, due to take place in December 2011, was cancelled for the first time since 1985 following a debate over the inclusion of Zwarte Piet in the festivities.

In 2011, legislators in the former Dutch colony of Suriname stated that government-sanctioned celebrations involving Zwarte Piet were considered an insult to the “black part of Suriname’s community.” Demonstrators in Amsterdam held an anti-Zwarte Piet protest in 2013 on the weekend of the city’s Sinterklaas celebration in November. And now, in 2014, something that’s been a long time coming has finally happened. An Amsterdam court has ruled that the traditional Dutch figure Black Pete is offensive due to its role in continuing stereotypes of black people. 


Alain Le Garsmeur, Georgia (1983)

The Year Algeria Made Football & World Cup History.

It’s been 32 years since the Algerian national football team caused what some have named one of the ‘biggest upsets' in World Cup history by defeating then European champions West Germany. It's also been 32 years since Algeria was sabotaged in what The Guardian calls “one of sport’s most blatant cases of match-fixing.”

Qualifying for the first time ever, Algeria’s presence at the World Cup hosted in Spain that year was already an historic feat. The African team had been placed in a group that included Austria, Chile, and West Germany who they were scheduled to play against first.

On that June day in 1982, the North African novices faced reigning European champions West Germany. Many predicted a thrashing by the Germans who in turn didn’t shy away from making boastful statements about the game that lay ahead. One German player boldly declared before the match, “we will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs”, openly mocking their Algerian opponents. Even the then West German manager, Jupp Derwall, reportedly said that if the Algerians won, he would “jump on the first train back to Munich.” Algeria defender Chaabane Merzekane recalled that one of the West German players said that he would play the match with a cigar in his mouth.

Well, if Derwall had any sense of foresight, he would’ve booked a one-way ticket back to Munich immediately. Better yet, if Derwall had only done his homework on the Algerian team, he may have refrained from making such a statement. Negligence on Derwall’s part would later mean that West Germany would be in for a great surprise. It was only after the match that Derwall admitted that he was given a footage of the Algerian players in action, as is customary, but did not show it to his team as they would have mocked him had he done so. Why? Simply because the Germans, whether out of racism or ignorance, did not think the Algerians to be worthy opponents.

In 1982, most of Algeria’s national football team was comprised of players who had been teammates for years as Algerian law at the time prohibited players from leaving the country before the age of 28, something that stemmed from the FLN’s role in Algeria’s history of independence and its influence on the country’s football team. All of the players had been based at home, as a result of this law, making their bond of the field exceptionally strong and fluid. Several former FLN players were part of the coaching staff in 1982, including Abdelhamid Zouba and the co-manager Rachid Mekloufi, and the spirit of Algerian pride that had been established by these players who left France to play for Algeria was present in the team. 1982 was also the 20th anniversary of Algeria’s independence. 

Algeria had successfully beaten Nigeria to be present at the 1982 World Cup and during their first ever match at this tournament, the determination and humility of the Fennec Foxes, as well as their skill, of course, would see them through to a 2-1 victory against West Germany. This victory made Algeria the first African team to defeat a European opponent at the World Cup. Their next match against Austria saw the tides turn as they lost 2-0, but against Chile, they regained their form and won that match leaving them with four points from their three games (back when it was two points for a win).

Now, their fate of progressing became dependent on West Germany failing to beat Austria the next day. But both the Germans and Austrians both knew that if Germany beat Austria 1-0, it would result in both teams progressing to the next round at Algeria’s expense. Thus, both teams conspired to achieve this result - a distasteful case of match-fixing that forever changed the world of football. After Germany’s Horst Hrubesch put his team in the lead at the 10th minute, both the Germans and Austrians basically did nothing for the next 80 minutes. No attempts at goal, just an hour and 20 minutes of kicking the ball around.

As The Guardian points out, “the game was no longer a contest, it was a conspiracy.”

Both the Austrian and West German teams were scorned by the public. Algerian fans in the crowd burned peseta notes to show their suspicions of corruption. Spaniards in attendance waved hankerchiefs throughout the second half in a traditional display of disdain. The following day, Spanish newspapers denounced the actions of both teams and there was outrage in West Germany and Austria too.

German commentator Eberhard Stanjek, working for German channel ARD, almost sobbed during the match and said: “What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you like, but not every end justifies the means.” His fellow Austrian commentator suggested viewers turn off their TVs and he refused to speak for the last half-hour. Former West German international Willi Schulz branded the German players “gangsters”.

But these ‘gangsters’ remained unapologetic through the criticism, backlash and protesting. When German fans gathered at the team hotel to protest, the players responded by throwing water bombs at them from their balconies.

The head of the Austrian delegation, Hans Tschak, made this extraordinary racist comments about the Algerian team: “Naturally today’s game was played tactically. But if 10,000 ‘sons of the desert’ here in the stadium want to trigger a scandal because of this it just goes to show that they have too few schools. Some sheikh comes out of an oasis, is allowed to get a sniff of World Cup air after 300 years and thinks he’s entitled to open his gob.”

Not ones to stoop down to the level of their European opponents, the Fennec Foxes remained publicly unphased by these comments. As Merzekane recalls, “We weren’t angry, we were cool,” he says. “To see two big powers debasing themselves in order to eliminate us was a tribute to Algeria. They progressed with dishonour, we went out with our heads held high.”

All over the world, people called on FIFA to punish the Europeans or stage a replay, but in the end all that was done by them was to rule that from then onwards the last pair of games in every group would be played simultaneously. Algeria had come to the World Cup and made history in more ways than one. They had left an “indelible mark on football history.”

(sources: 1 | 2 | 3)

Enslaved Africans Were the First to Celebrate Ramadan in the United States.

In line with the start of Ramadan this year, its important to note how the history of Islam in America is inextricably linked with the arrival of enslaved Africans. Whilst some may think the second-most practiced faith in the United States does not have a long-standing history in the country, social scientists estimate that 15 to 30 percent, or “as many as 600,000 to 1.2 million,” slaves in antebellum America were Muslims. Forty-six percent of the slaves in the antebellum South were kidnapped from Africa’s western regions, which boasted “significant numbers of Muslims.” 

The failure to not recognize this fact is not only an ignorant viewpoint that erases both the history of early African-American presence and Islam in the US, but also sheds light on racist historical perspectives that exist both in American and Muslim societies.

With many of these individuals coming from communities throughout the Western coast of Africa, many sought to keep their faith intact as best they could, including the observation of Ramadan. Due to the harsh conditions of slavery, this was not always easily done and with time, many traditions were lost through the brutality of the system of slavery that prevented or outlawed the passing on of many significant cultural practices that were brought to the United States through enslaved Africans.



Aaron Henry at the Democratic National Convention of 1964. ~ WARREN K. LEFFLER/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

What Was Freedom Summer?  by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Tomorrow night (6/24/2014), you will have an opportunity to experience “Freedom Summer” the way my family did: on television. Only back then, we didn’t know whether civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner would be found alive down in Mississippi. We also didn’t know whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (our subject next week), without badly needed voting-rights protections, would begin to fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a new American racial order, following a hundred years’ war between advocates for full and equal black citizenship and the architects of all the snares that had hampered black progress since the collapse of Reconstruction in 1876. What we did sense was that the movement had grown younger, more radical, more diverse and increasingly powered by what Robert “Bob” Parris Moses, the pivotal planner of Freedom Summer, has called “ ‘We, the people’ force.”

Before Sly and the Family Stone released their hit song “Everyday People,” the volunteers of Freedom Summer lived the philosophy behind it—school by school, vote by vote, blow by blow. Moses—truly one of the heroes in the history of the African-American people—compared “the language” animating this noble effort to that “of the ocean, the everyday language of everyday people.” And when its wave crashed in Mississippi in June, July and August of 1964, the reverberation was so loud and deep that we could hear it and feel it all the way up in the Allegheny Mountains surrounding my small hometown of Piedmont, W.Va.  

One thing was for sure: None of us would ever be the same. Nor would America. To me, Freedom Summer’s greatest legacy is the counterintuitive philosophy behind it. After decades of a “top down” organizing strategy, Moses and Ella Baker flipped the script, galvanizing everyday people to learn and lead themselves. And it is—it always will be—a blueprint for change. 

The Roots of Freedom Summer

Local branches of the NAACP led the way in Mississippi, beginning in the 1950s, with Amzie Moore, Aaron Henry and Medgar Evers (who would be assassinated in his own driveway) in the forefront. The mountains those pioneers had to climb were steep and jagged. African Americans in Mississippi, when they had jobs, were typically stuck working as sharecroppers or domestics, and they lived in a segregated society without any political power. “In 1962,” Lisa Clayton Robinson notes in her entry on Freedom Summer in Africana“only 6.7 percent of African Americans in the state were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country.” And, as the 1955 murder of Emmett Till demonstrated, white violence was an omnipresent threat.

Organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) started pouring into the state in the early 1960s. As President John F. Kennedy said about the country as a whole, “ … the torch ha[d] been passed.” Among the young new leaders, none played a more pivotal role than the brilliant but soft-spoken visionary Bob Moses, in Mississippi to spearhead a voter registration drive. Moses may not be as well known to the wider society today as King is, but he should be. Without him, there would have been no Freedom Summer, and without Freedom Summer, there would have been no Voting Rights Act a year later.

Read more here.