Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Friday, February 26, 2010

Miss Lou leaves us the full loaf

Women's History Month

MARCH 1, 2010
If you want half a bread, beg somebody buy it, but if you want a whole loaf, buy it youself.

Louise Bennett, Jamaican poet and folklorist

I was about nine years old when I met Louise (Miss Lou) Bennett at a function in rural Jamaica. I felt as if I already knew her from the poems she published in the Gleaner, our only daily newspaper at the time. I was so excited to see and hear her perform, that the memory of me meeting Miss Lou is seared in my memory. Decades later, my children would meet her when they were also around nine years old. They played a piano duet on Miss Lou’s memorable show – Ring Ding – that showcased Jamaican culture with songs, stories, games, and performances from children.

If you have some memories of Miss Lou, please share.

Miss Lou was an actress. My aunt-mother took me to see her perform in the Christmas Pantomime as our yearly ritual. In the early days, the pantomimes followed the British model, with the leads all white or light-skinned, and the music from up North. But the real lead for me was always Miss Lou who spoke Jamaican Creole, sang Jamaican song, and seemed to bring playground fun to the stage.

She was also a poet. She took Jamaican Creole to the level of an art. For her, the vernacular was not “bad” or “broken” English any more than Chaucer’s English could be considered “bad” or “broken” Latin, French, or German. She showed how Creole could express our wit, culture, emotions, and ability to overcome adversity. Today’s dub poets (like Mutabaruka) dancehall artistes (like Yellowman), poets (Like Joan Andrea Hutchinson) and storytellers (like Amina Blackwood Meeks) owe much to Miss Lou’s work in gaining respect for Creole as a language in its own right.

But most of all, Miss Lou is a beloved Jamaican icon. Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley was born in Kingston, Jamaica on September 7, 1919. She wrote her first Creole poem when she was fourteen years old. In the 1940s, she attended the Royal Academy of Drama Art on a British Council scholarship. When she returned to Jamaica, she taught drama to groups of young people and adults. In 1954, she married Eric Winston Coverley.

She has received many awards for her contribution to Jamaican cultural life, including honorary doctorates from the University of the West Indies, and from York University, Toronto Canada.

Miss Lou spent her final years in Canada, where she developed celebrity status. She died in Toronto in 2006.

For Miss Lou’s poetry, please see Jamaica Labrish (1966).

Michael Jackson's Eight

That which the ear has heard, and the eye has seen, it's useless for the mouth to deny. (DRC)

1984 - Michael Jackson won eight Grammy awards.

For me, Michael Jackson was a dancer who could sing. I do believe I could watch that man dance all day and then be up early next day yearning for more. What is most memorable about Michael Jackson for you?

Mostly, though, I related to Michael through the eyes of my sons. We all rocked to “ABC”, grew misty with to “I’ll Be There” and grew teary-eyed at the fate of “Ben”.

Later, no longer with young sons to provide an excuse for listening to Michael, I developed my own attachment to songs like “Billie Jean”,“Man in the Mirror”, and "Will You Be There".

Michael Jackson, singer, dancer, and entertainer, earned the title “King of Pop”. He was the eighth of ten children born to a working-class family. His talent was evident from the time he was in kindergarten, and by age eight, he was the lead singer of the Jackson Five.

He later went solo, and his 1982 album Thriller is the best-selling album of all time. His videos, such as Billie Jean, and Beat It, transformed videos from promotional tools to art forms. He was an extraordinary dancer who created dance techniques such as the robot and the moonwalk.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame twice, and has on 15 Grammy awards and 26 American Music Awards. He was the first artist to have 4 of the 20 best selling albums in one year.Besides being the best selling artist in history, Jackson was a philanthropist and humanitarian. For example, he founded the “Heal the World Foundation” to help children worldwide who were threatened by war, disease, and poverty. He drew attention to the effects of HIV/AIDS and raised millions of dollars for charities. For his song, "Heal the World", please click here

In 1984, he received a special award from the US President for supporting charities that helped people overcome alcohol and drug abuse. That was the same year that he made history by winning eight Grammys.

He died in June 2009, weeks before he was to perform at a series of concerts titled, “This is It.”

Marian Anderson, singing free

Pigs do not know what a pen is for. United States (Black Communities)

1897 – Marian Anderson was born

When I was in my teens, my aunt-mother Ettie took me to hear Marion Anderson at the Ward Theatre in Kingston, Jamaica. This theatre has seating on three levels, and that night I was on the level that felt so high we called it “in the gods”. After climbing all those stairs, I stood for the entire concert. Still, as far as I was concerned, I had the best spot in the house – probably seeing and hearing better than most. Her presence filled the house, and her voice filled my heart then as much as it does now.

Marion Anderson's life showed she did not believe in containment of her talent or herself as a Black woman born just three decades after slavery ended. She was an outstanding singer who performed at concert and recital venues all over the US and Europe. She was also an activist who continually broke barriers for Black artists and stood up for equal rights for all.

In 1955, she became the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

She was active in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and sang at the 1963 March on Washington. For many years she was a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the “goodwill ambassador” for the United States Department of State.

Anderson joined her church choir when she was six years old, often performing at local functions. Her family could not afford to send her to high school or to pay for her music lessons, so she sought out opportunities to learn singing from anyone who would teach her for free. She therefore continued her involvement in her church choir and joined other singing groups as well. Eventually, her church and a singing group helped to raise money to allow her to have singing lessons and attend high school.

An all-white music school refused her entry, but she continued her studies nonetheless, with the support of the Black community. In 1925 she won a prize that allowed her to perform with the New York Philharmonic, and this was the start of her career as a singer. She continued to encounter race prejudice in the US, but was a favorite in Europe.

Among her many honors are a United Nations Peace Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

She died at age 96.

For further information, please click here

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carter Woodson, the lion's historian

Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. Ethiopia, Benin, Ghana, and Togo (Ewe)

1926 - Carter G. Woodson announced “Negro History Week".

If you studied Black history at school, consider yourself lucky. For those of us who went to school decades ago, Britain and Europe seemed to be the only countries with history. So we knew a lot about the dysfunctional Tudors and Stewarts of Britain, and the murderous Borgias of Italy, but nothing about people of colour. It seemed Black people just had roles in the backdrop of Tarzan and Phantom comic strips, or as cartoon characters in B-grade movies.

Carter Godwin Woodson did his best to change those concepts of race. Woodson was a Black American historian, author, and journalist who is known as the Father of Black History.

He was the son of former slaves and was not able to attend school regularly because his family was so poor. So he taught himself and was ultimately able to earn a first degree in literature. He later gained his MA and in 1912 was awarded a PhD from Harvard University.

His research into Black history began because he felt that scholars were ignoring or misrepresenting that area of study. He wrote several books on Black history, and published journals that continue to be published today.

Woodson was a member of the faculty of Howard University, and left because of difference with the president. He then spent the rest of his life researching and preserving Black history, until then ignored by historians. He was also a regular contributor to Marcus Garvey’s newspaper, and strongly supported efforts by Caribbean people to include Black history and culture in school curricula.

In 1920 he founded the oldest Black American publishing company in the United States. In 1926, he single-handedly pioneered Black History month, originally Negro History Week – the second week in February.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Donald Quarrie gold miner

If the elephant picks it up, he knows he can swallow it. (Kiswahili)

1951 - Donald Quarrie was born

A look at the line-up of Quarrie's gold medals shows why he is synonymous with speed:


* 1976 - Gold 200m

Commonwealth Games

* 1970 - Gold 100m, Gold 200m, Gold 4x100m
* 1974 - Gold 100m, Gold 200m
* 1978 - Gold 100m

Quarrie broke a 24-year Jamaican drought. He was the first Jamaican in five consecutive Olympic Games to stand highest on the podium, receive a gold medal, see his flag hoisted and listen to his national anthem. Before him, the last Jamaicans to mine gold were the 4x400 metres relay team of George Rhoden, Les Laing, Herb McKenley, and Arthur Wint. I had the pleasure of seeing that team run a demonstration race at Sabina Park after their return from the Helsinki Games.

Donald Quarrie is regarded as one of the world’s outstanding sprinters ever. He was the metaphor for speed in Ernie Smith's song, "Duppy or Gunman".

He first qualified for Jamaica’s Olympic team when he was 17 years old. He was known not only for his skill and ability in athletics, but for his discipline. In addition, he is known as the greatest runner around the bend.

He had particular success in the Commonwealth Games and in the Pan-American Games. He was the first male athlete to earn six gold medals in the Commonwealth Games. Further, he broke the world record for the 200 metres at the Pan-American Games in 1971, and tied for the 100 metres world record in 1976.

Quarrie’s statue is placed at the entrance to the National Stadium, and an East Kingston school is named after him.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bustamante's backbone

The river may be wide, but it can be crossed. (Cote d'Ivoire)

1884 - Alexander Bustamante was born.

As a child, I experienced at first hand Bustamante’s skill in reaching the heart of a crowd. My family favoured the opposing party, but none of us could resist Busta’s magnetism on the political platform. We knew we were in for theatre on the street corner when the crowd started singing, “He’s the lily of the valley.”. When his speech ended (always too soon) his supporters would pledge loyalty with the party song,

We will follow Bustamante,
We will follow Bustamante till we die.

He was born William Alexander Clarke and later took the name Bustamante. Affectionately called Busta, or Chief, he worked in Cuba as well as New York before returning to Jamaica in 1932. During the 1938 riots he defended the workers who were on strike, and after the riots he set up the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU).

Busta identified closely with his grassroots followers, and I suspect he fostered the urban legend that he could not read or write. His rivals may therefore have added to his mystique by spreading stories about his lack of education. For example, it is said that he once told a crowd. “If you vote for me, I will make sure you have bread. B-r-e-d.”

“You leave out the ‘a’. Busta,” said a follower.
“You will have bread. B-r-e-d-a.” Busta allegedly said.

In another of these stories, Busta was again in campaign mode. He is supposed to have said to a rural community,"If you vote for me, I will build you a bridge."

"But we don't have any river here," a community member said.
"Well, if you vote for me, I will give you a river," Busta said, according to this 'report'.

The story below is true, and shows the courage and charisma of this man.

A crowd had gathered at Parade, a section of downtown Kingston where there was a statue of Queen Victoria. Busta spoke from on top of the statue. He told the workers that, with their support, he would be able to negotiate from a position of strength. So he appealed to the people to go home peacefully. As he climbed down from the statue, policemen pointed their rifles at the crowd and told them to disperse.

Busta then bared his chest, and said to the police, "If you are going to shoot, shoot me, but leave these defenceless, hungry people alone." He then told the people to sing the God Save the King. This was Jamaica's national anthem as the country was still a British colony. The police were obliged to lower their rifles and stand at attention out of respect for the British Empire. Busta then took the opportunity to lead the crowd away.

In spite of his request for non-violence, rioting did ultimately erupt. As a result, Busta spent two years in prison, from 1940 to 1942, for “subversive activities”. In 1943 he founded the Jamaica Labour Party and went on to win the 1944 elections, the first time all adult Jamaicans were allowed to vote. His political rival was his cousin, Norman Manley. Busta lost the 1955 elections but was returned to power in time to be the first Prime Minister of Jamaica after independence in 1962.

In 1968, Busta was proclaimed a National Hero. He died in 1977.

Many children today remember Busta because of a firm, tough sweet named after him – Bustamante Backbone.

Do you have any stories about Busta or about a folk hero in your country? Please share., Norm

Legacy of WEB DuBois

Who is brave enough to tell the lion that his breath smells? (Berber)

1868 - W.E.B. Dubois, scholar, activist and author of The Souls of Black Folk, was born.

I became familiar with W.E.B Dubois when I moved to Ghana many decades ago. I was a teacher in Accra, and he was Kwame Nkrumah’s honored guest. Here he is celebrating his 95th birthday with his wife Shirley, Nkrumah, and Nkrumah’s wife Fathia.

DuBois was an author, historian, sociologist, Pan-Africanist, and civil rights activist. He was born into a free Black landowning family. His father was from Haiti, and his parents split up when he was two years old. Dubois worked hard at school, as he saw education as taking him and his mother out of poverty. He earned a first degree from Fish University, and later became the first Black person awarded a PhD from Harvard University.

He wrote several books, the best known of which is “Souls of Black Folk.” He also encouraged writers of Black fiction, poetry, and drama. He was the most prominent activist on behalf of Black Americans during the first half of the twentieth century, and was called, “The Father of Pan Africanism.” He was one of the founders of the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He and Marcus Garvey strongly disagreed on whether Blacks could be integrated as equals into American society.

DuBois was a radical all his life. The FBI investigated him, claiming he was a socialist. He visited Communist China and was indicted (and later acquitted) for “communist sympathies". At the age of 82, DuBois ran for the position of US Senator from New York, and polled four per cent of the votes. When the US refused him a new passport in 1963, he became a citizen of Ghana, the country in which he spent his final days.

He died the day before Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington, and Kwame Nkrumah honored him with a state funeral.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Independent St Lucia - Jazz and Nobel prizewinners

No one can scratch your itch or convey your message like yourself. (Ethiopia)

1979 – St Lucia became independent.

I landed in St Lucia once, intransit on a forced island hop. I was bumped off a direct flight from Trinidad to Antigua, and the option was a little propeller plane that took half a day to cover less than an hour's flight by the regional airline. I sat next to a lady who did not increase my confidence when she closed her eyes and hung on to her rosary for as long as we were airborne. So St Lucia remains for me part of an obstacle course of three or four islands impeding my reaching friends, and food, and firm ground in Antigua.

In recent times, the St Lucia jazz festival has drawn my interest. Some say it's the best time to visit for some excitement in a place more noted for peace and quiet, and jazz fans love the beautiful backdrop to great music. In this clip, Herbie Hancock provides one good reason why my real trip to St Lucia may not be far away.

My other interest in St Lucia is literary - it is the home of Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, poet, playwright, and visual artist. He was among the earliest students at the then University College of the West Indies, and has maintained links with Jamaica. One of my pleasures in the 1970s was watching his plays, my favorites being "Dream on Monkey Mountain" and "Ti-Jean and His Brothers."

St Lucia, with a population  of 160,000, is birthplace to two Nobel laureates. Before Walcott (1992), there was Arthur Lewis (1979). Incidentally, both are born on January 23 in different years. Arthur Lewis was the first Black person to win a Nobel Prize in a category other than peace. He was also Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies from 1959 to 1963.

Besides its Jazz Festival and two Nobel laureates, St Lucia is also known for rain foresrs, the Soufriere volcano, and the sulphur springs near the volcano. Because of their French heritage, St Lucians speak French patois as well as English. Zouk, a popular musical form found in islands with French connections, is popular in St Lucia.

So happy independence day, St Lucia!

If you are St Lucian, have visited St Lucia, or know anyone who has visited this island, please share your observations.

The fire Malcolm X kindled

If one person kindles the fire, others can take live coals from it. (Ghana)

1965 - Malcolm X was assassinated in New York.

What are your memories or your elders' memories of Malcolm X?

The first time I heard about him was when he first made headlines on April 26, 1957. The police had beaten a Black man in Harlem, apparently for not moving quickly enough. An angry crowd gathered, but Malcolm's presence calmed the people and they followed his instructions. It seemed extraordinary that one man, till then little known outside of Harlem, could exercise more power unarmed that the police who were armed.

I saw Malcolm X in the flesh at Accra airport when he visited Ghana after his hajj in Mecca. I was meeting a friend who happened to sit next to Malcolm on the flight next to Nigeria. I made all my plans to go to hear Malcolm speak the following night at Legon University in Accra. But, as we say in Jamaica, “man ah plan and God ah wipe out.” My baby sitter did not arrive, and I remained home with my babies. And Malcolm was killed the following year.

Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, extraordinary public speaker, was a Nation of Islam minister and human rights activist. He was born Malcolm Little and changed his name to signify the loss of his African name. His father, outspoken Baptist minister and local leader in Marcus Garvey’s movement, instilled in him a sense of racial pride and dignity as well as self-reliance. His mother was born in Grenada.

Malcolm, one of eight children, lost both parents by the time he was 13 years old. His father was killed in circumstances that suggested lynching, and his mother was admitted to hospital for mental illness. He and his siblings were then sent to live in orphanages and foster homes A bright, focused student, he dropped out of school after a teacher told him that his dream of becoming a lawyer "no realistic goal for a nigger." He later became involved in criminal activities; in 1946, he was sentenced to a prison term.

While in prison, he became a member of the Nation of Islam. After his parole in 1952, his intelligence and eloquence made him one of the best known figures in the Nation of Islam. When he left the Nation, he became a Sunni Muslim and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was giving a speech in New York when he was assassinated in 1965, one week after his home had been fire-bombed. .

Malcolm X has left to today’s Black civil and human rights movements worldwide a legacy of increased self-esteem and greater connection to the African heritage.

What do you think we can do today to keep the fire lit for equality and justice?

Nina Simone's message in song

No one can scratch your itch or convey your message like yourself. (Ethiopia)

1933 – Nina Simone was born as Eunice Kathleen Waymon.

Have you got a favorite Nina Simone song/message?

"Young, Gifted, and Black" found me in my protest phase, with high Afro, dashikis, and a number of books officially banned by the Jamaican government of the time. For example, my books by Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, and Stokeley Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) had to be wrapped in brown paper and kept out of sight. So for me, "Young, Gifted and Black" has a special place as the mantra of a generation that believed that Black was truly beautiful.

The cover by Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths also carries some great memories for me, apart from which Bob and Marcia are such talented artistes.

Nina Simone, sixth of seven children born to a poor family in North Carolina, stayed close to her roots in the Black community. Although she was trained as a classical pianist at Juillard School of Music, she sang pop, jazz, blues, gospel, spirituals, classical music, songs from musicals and opera, as well as African chants and her own compositions. She became a singer almost by accident. In 1954, a bar owner hired her to play piano, and he insisted that she must sing as well.

Her "Misssissippi Goddam" expresses her outrage at brutality and injustice. Simone wrote this song after a Birmingham church was bombed in 1963 and four Black girls were killed. Not surprisingly, several Southern states banned this song. To hear the Priestess preach it, please click here

She performed and sang at the Selma and Montgomery civil rights marches, and also wrote Civil Rights songs, including one written on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr.

In 1970, Simone went into self-imposed exile from the US. She lived in Barbados, Liberia, and parts of Europe, and died in Switzerland in 2003. At her request, her ashes were scattered in four African countries.

Her message lives on.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Black History Month - Sidney Poitier

Where there is greatness, it shows itself. (Zambia)

1924 - Sidney Poitier was born.

When I was a child, the few Black faces I saw in the movies were maids or characters that seemed degraded and degrading. Worse still, sometimes the Black faces were painted on whites in what were then called “minstrel shows”. Sidney Poitier was significant for me in bringing and end to the caricatures of Black people as silly and mindless if they were not singing or dancing.

Sidney Poiter was born in the US and grew up with his family in the Bahamas. He showed signs of being a wayward youth, and his parents sent him off to stay when his brother in Miami when he was 15 years old. Two years later, he moved to New York and had a string of menial jobs. After a stint as a dishwasher, he had an audition that landed him a role with American Negro Theatre.

Audiences didn’t like him much because he was tone deaf, could not sing or dance, and had a distinctive Bahamian accent. He therefore left the theatre for six months to improve his acting skills and shed his accent. When he returned to the theatre, he was given a leading role and had excellent reviews.

His first big film role was in “Blackboard Jungle”, and he became the first Black actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. He was also the first Black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (Lilies of the Field in 1963). He acted in theatre and film versions of “A Raisin in the Sun”, and among his most successful films were “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “To Sir With Love”. He made his debut as director with “Buck and the Preacher” starring Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

To see Sidney Poitier accepting his honorary Oscar award, please click here

Poitier is currently Bahamian ambassador to Japan and the UNESCO as well. In addition, he received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2009.

1895- Fredrick Douglass died.

1900 - J.F. Bickering patented his airship invention.

1937 - Nancy Wilson, singer, was born.

1971: Idi Amin Dada became president and ruler of Uganda.

1988: Best selling singer Rihanna born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Saint Michael, Barbados.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Black History Month - Smokey Robinson

It is the person who knows how to shoot whom we put on the track of an animal. (Ghana)

1940 – William "Smokey" Robinson was born.

For those of us who followed Motown, Smokey Robinson was truly the "King". An original member of the Miracles, he was a singer, song writer, record producer. In all, Robinson had 37 Top Forty hits.

Robinson scrapped his early ideas on songwriting after Berry Gordy told him, “Every song should have an idea, tell a story, mean something.” He went on to write lyrics for about 4,000 songs, among which the best known are “My Girl” and “Tears of a Clown”. As a solo singer, Bobinson released an album, “Just My Soul Responding”, that commented on the USA’s treatment of Blacks and Indians. He also developed a style known as “soft soul”.

He was Motown’s vice president for 27 years, and was second only to Berry Gordy in commercial success. The Supremes, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye owe much to Robinson's skill in developing talent and reputation.

In 1999, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2006 Howard University conferred on him the degree Doctor of Music. He is the only person to be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame. He is also the double-honoree of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,as a solo artist & member of The Miracles.

Also on this date in:

1963: British soul singer and songwriter Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel born in London, England.

1992: John Singleton was the first African American director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Boyz N the Hood

2002 - Vonetta Flowers became first Black to win gold medal at Winter Olympics (bobsledding).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Black History Month - Gambia independent

The wasp says that several regular trips to a mud pit enables it to build a house. (Benin, Togo, Ghana)

1965 - Gambia proclaimed independence.


Kunta Kinte, one of the leading characters in Alex Haley's "Roots", came from The Gambia. "Roots" dramatized many events in Gambia's history.

The River Gambia remains an important transport route from the interior to the coast. It is navigable and flows 600 miles from Guinea to the Atlantic. First the Portuguese and then the British therefore set up slave trading ports in The Gambia, the River of No Return for many Africans. During the transatlantic slave trade, an estimated three million slaves may have passed through these slave trading ports.

The Gambia, the smallest country in Africa, is found along a narrow strip (never more than 30 miles wide) on either side of River Gambia. It shares all land borders with Senegal. The Gambia’s population,mainly Muslim, speak a number of African languages, and the official language is English. Gambians are known for excellence in music and dancing. Peanuts are the country’s main cash crop, and tourism is a major source of revenue.

The Gambia was Britain's first and last colony in Africa.

1688 - First formal protest against slavery in US: Quakers.

1922 - Eric Gairy, former Prime Minister of Grenada, was born.

1931 - Toni Morrison, winner of 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, was born.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Black History Month - Huey P. Newton

Today for me, tomorrow for you. (Trinidad & Tobago)

1942 – Huey P Newton was born.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos brought alive Black Power movement for me when I watched them receive their medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. In an unforgettable moment, they raised their fists in a Black Power salute.

Huey P. Newton (1942-1989) was an integral part of the movement promoting Black consciousness in the 1960s.

Newton was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party, serving as its minister of defense during much of the 1960s. He was the youngest of seven children, born to a poor family who suffered segregation and discrimination. School felt so irrelevant to Newton’s life, that he felt he learned nothing of value in school. Despite his teachers’ predictions, he earned an Arts degree and studied law. In 1980, he was awarded a PhD.

While in college, he studied Black history. He formed the Black Panther Party in 1966, following the assassination of Malcolm X. The goal of his organization was to provide a voice for poor Black communities, inform them of their rights, and help them defend itself against police harassment. This party also called for improved housing, schooling, and employment opportunities for Blacks. Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Fred Hampton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Angela Davis were among well-known Black Panthers.

The FBI denounced the Black Panther Party as subversives and communist outlaws; directed by J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI waged a campaign to eliminate the Black Panther Party.

Efforts to discredit and eliminate the Black Panther party bore fruit. In 1967, there were ten Panther deaths resulting from confrontations between the Black Panthers and the police. Also in 1967, Newton was accused with murdering a police officer. He was convicted and sentenced to prison, but was freed when the case was retried a second time. In 1969 alone, 348 Panthers were arrested for a variety of crimes. The party headquarters were also raided in 1969 and two members killed in an alleged shootout - ballistics evidence suggested otherwise.

In 1970, when Newton was released from prison, he shifted the focus of the Black Panther Party and concentrated on programmes to help poor communities survive. Despite the change in his activism, Newton continued to attract the attention of the authorities. In 1974, he was again accused of murder, and was ultimately acquitted. In 1985 he was charged with embezzling funds Black Panther community projects, and was convicted for this offense in 1989. By this time, the Black Panther Party was crumbling under external attack, and internal conflict.

Newton was murdered in 1989. His last words to his killer were reportedly, "You can kill my body, but you can't kill my soul. My soul will live forever!"

1963 – Michael Jordan born.

1997 - Virginia's House of Delegates votes unanimously to retire the state song, "Carry me back to old Virginia" which glorifies slavery.

Remembering Rex

Today, Professor Ralston Milton "Rex", scholar and cultural icon, was given an official funeral at the University of the West Indies. He died on February 2, four hours before his 77th birthday.

He was outstanding as author, manager, lecturer, and trade unionist. Most compelling of all, for lovers of culture, was his performance as the Kumina King (seen in the video below.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Black History Month - Jamaican cricketer Michael Holding

One who does not look ahead remains behind. (Brazil)

1954 – Jamaican cricketer Michael Holding was born

Michael Holding played schoolboy cricket – Sunlight Cup – on the Kingston College (KC) team in the early 1970s. In those days, I taught at Jamaica College (JC), KC’s traditional rival team at major sports. It was therefore no surprise when I learned in 1975 that selectors of the West Indies cricket team chose Holding to play test cricket in Australia. “He is just going along for the experience,” my source told me. “He probably won’t even play an actual Test match.

My source turned out to be wrong, as Holding had his Test debut and began showing his outstanding talent in that Australian series.

He was a natural athlete who might have been one of the great 400 metres runners had he not transferred his skills to the cricket pitch. He had one of the longest run-ups, and he also used his height (6’4½”) to good effect.

Holding was one of the fastest bowlers ever to play Test cricket; his quiet and deadly glide up the wicket led to his being called “Whispering Death”. Holding's 1981 over to Geoff Boycott at Kensington Oval was historic: five mesmerizing balls each one faster than the last with no runs scored, followed by a devastating ball that took Boycott’s wicket.

He was not equally brilliant as a batsman, but he nonetheless hit 36 sixes in his Test career.

On retirement from the game in 1987, he became an outstanding cricket commentator.

Also on this date in:

1874 - Frederick Douglass was elected president of Freedman's Bank and Trust.

1904 - James Baskett was born, He became Disney’s first live actor playing the part of Uncle Remus in Disney's "Song of the South" (1945. He was also the first male performer of African descent to receive an Oscar.

1923 - Bessie Smith made first recording for Columbia Records.

1956 - Singer James Ingram born in Akron, Ohio.

1957: Levar Burton, the actor most famous for his role as Kunta Kinte in the acclaimed television series "Roots" based on the Alex Haley novel of the same name was born.

1958: Rapper/ Actor Tracy Morrow, better known as Ice-T born in Newark, New Jersey. Ice-T, was born

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Black History Month - Claudia Cumberbatch Jones, Trinidadian-born activist

With shoes one can get on it the midst of thorns. (Jamaica)

1915 - Claudia Cumberbatch Jones was born in Trinidad.

I reached England in August 1964, and Claudia Cumberbatch Jones died on Christmas Eve of the same year. I was involved with Caribbean culture in the London of Kamau Braithwaite and Andrew Salkey, and I am amazed that I don’t recall hearing about Claudia till a few weeks ago.

Claudia Cumberbatch Jones, Marxist, feminist, journalist, Black nationalist, political activist, community advocate, was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. She came from a colonial society in which Black males had little say, and Black women had even lower status than their men. However, Claudia was fearless, outspoken, and uncompromising. She is noted for her stand against exploitation and oppression of women and people of African ancestry in the US and UK.

Claudia was eight years old when her parents migrated to New York City where she lived for 30 years. Her mother died five years later, and her poor living conditions may have contributed to her contracting the tuberculosis that damaged her lungs for life.

She took part in protests against racial injustice. For example,during the 1930s, she took part in protests against the injustice meted out to the Scottsboro Nine. These nine young men, accused of raping a white woman, were convicted by an all-white jury after a trial at which they had inadequate defence.

Claudia's activism in Communist politics drew the attention of the authorities during the McCarthy era when the United States treated suspected communists as subversives. Claudia was arrested and sent to prison several times before the US deported her in 1955.

She was given asylum in the UK where she continued her activism, vigorously defending the rights of the Black community in the UK. She founded a newspaper to promote the campaign for equal opportunities for Blacks. This was the first mass circulation newspaper for the Black community.

In 1959, she launched a celebration of Caribbean culture and talent. This event grew into a street party that became the Notting Hill Carnival.
She died in 1964. In October 2008, the UK remembered her with a special postage stamp bearing her image.

Also on this date in:

1869- International Pan-Africanist civil rights activist Henry Sylvester Williams born in Arouca, Trinidad to parents from Barbados.

1960 - British-Jamaican musician Mikey Craig was born in London, England. He gained fame as the bassist in Culture Club, the band fronted by Boy George.

1965 – Nat King Cole died

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Black History Month - Richard Allen founder of AME Church


It is before the drum that one learns to know the samba. (Haiti)

1760: Richard Allen, the founder of African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born.

Whenever I visit the US, I try to put aside at least one Sunday when I visit a
Black Church. In my view, mainstream Caribbean churches, such as the Catholic and Anglican churches, suffer from close association with the colonial past. On the other hand, segregation forced Blacks to set up churches designed to serve their communities.

Richard Allen, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal church in Philadelphia, was born on this day 1816. Both his parents were born into slavery, and he was sold with them to a slave master who ultimately allowed Allen to buy freedom for himself and his brother.

He taught himself to read and write, and started out as a Methodist preacher, supporting himself with odd jobs. The Methodist church was then segregated, and therefore Allen served Black church members in a segregated area of the church. One day, in reaction to the racism in the church, Allen led a walkout from that church. He set up a Black congregation under Black leadership, despite opposition from whites and privileged Blacks. With those who left the Methodist church, Allen bought land that is now the oldest piece of real estate continuously owned by Blacks. At first the congregation had to have white oversight, but in 1868 the church became fully independent with Allen as its first bishop. 1794 he and his followers opened the doors of the all-black Mother Bethel AME Church.

Finding that other black congregations in the region were also seeking independence from white control, in 1816 Allen organized a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first fully independent black denomination. He was elected its first bishop in 1816.

Allen and his congregation campaigned actively against slavery. They operated a station on the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves, helped settle runaway slaves in Philadelphia, and provided aid to new settlements in Canada. The AME church also set up schools for Black children.

When Allen realized that other Black congregations wanted to throw off white control, he organized a new denomination: The African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was elected its first bishop in 1916.

Sounds of Blackness - Hold On, A Change is Comin'

Also on this date in:

1817: Abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman Frederick Douglass born. Born into slavery as Frederick Douglass purchased his freedom in 1845 and went on to become the greatest abolitionist of his time. (died Feb 20 1895)

1867- Augusta Institute, later Morehouse College, opened in Atlanta, GA.

1946 - Gregory Hines was born

Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr in the 1989 movie "Tap"

My Porch: Today Leontyne Price Turned 83

My Porch: Today Leontyne Price Turned 83

Black History Month - Earl "Fatha" Hines


If you sell a drum in your own village, you get the money and keep the sound. (Madagascar)

1940: Earl "Fatha" Hines (1903-1983) and his orchestra recorded "Boogie Woogie on the St. Louis Blues”.

When I think about jazz pianists, Oscar Peterson comes to mind. And of course Jamaica’s Monty Alexander. But before them was Earl “Fatha” Hines was an outstanding piano soloist in jazz. He was also a composer, bandleader, and recording artist.

Hines came from a musical family was musical. His father played the cornet, his mother and sister played the organ, and his brother played the piano. His mother was his first music teacher.

Hines seemed to be on track for a classical music career when he fell in love with jazz. He formed his first band when he was 15, and later joined up with Louis Armstrong. Between Armstrong’s unique voice and Hines’ scorching jazz piano, the two created jazz history. Jazz legends such as Billy Eckstine, Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker worked with Hines’ band.

He earned his name “Father” after he lectured a radio announcer about his drinking habits. He didn’t much care for the name, but he is indeed considered to be the father of modern jazz piano. Hines was at the forefront of the Hot Jazz style; he was always taking chances with his music, and coming up with new and exciting ideas.

Also on this date in:

1920: The first successful organized Negro Baseball League was established at a YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri by Andrew "Rube" Foster who served as its president.

1970: Joseph L. Searles III became the first black floor member and floor broker in the New York Stock Exchange. He worked as a floor partner in the firm of Neburger, Loeb and Company.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Book: Lifelines: Black Book of Proverbs

New Book: Lifelines: Black Book of Proverbs

Black History Month - Harriet Tubman and the Fugitive Slave Act

No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come. (Tunisia)

1793 - United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act.

Harriet Tubman, who freed herself from slavery, continued to guide slaves to freedom despite the Fugitive Slave Act. According to this Act, all runaway slaves had to be brought back to their masters. The only change in Harriet's role as conductor of the Underground Railroad was to take her passengers to Canada where slave catchers could not reach them.

This Act declared that any Black person could be held anywhere in the US and returned to a slave master. Persons who had been free for many years could be held, and anyone could be sent to prison for not cooperating with the capture of “runaway” slaves. Many free Blacks were therefore returned to slavery. If they were captured, they could not defend themselves against the accusers, and they were not entitled to a court trial.

However, Harriet Tubman continued to risk her own freedom by returning again and again to the heart of slave territory. She singlehandedly rescued over seventy slaves, and never lost a “passenger”.

1909 - NAACP was founded in NY.

The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909 in response to violence against Blacks, in particular the practice of lynching. The major focus of the organization was to guarantee for Blacks their constitutional rights such as equal protection under the law and the right to vote, and to end race prejudice. During the Depression of the 1930s, the NAACP also began to focus on economic justice and sought to outlaw job discrimination. The organization had its first Black president in 1934.

The NAACP secured .the landmark Brown versus the Board of Education (1954) judgment, which outlawed segregation in schools. The implementation of civil rights for Blacks has been slow, sometimes subtly undermined by those who claim to be liberal, and sometimes violently opposed by those who overtly profess racism. .

Today, the NAACP continues its advocacy on civil rights issues. The body also targets disparities in education, health care, voter empowerment, economic disparities, and the criminal justice system.

Also on this day in:

1890 - "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (lyrics written by James Weldon Johnson) was performed for the first time.

1934- Bill Russell, basketball player, was born.

1955 - Arsenio Hall was born.

1962 - The bus boycott opened in Macon, Georgia.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Black History Month - Nelson Mandela's release

If we go forward we die; if we go backward we die; better go forward and die. (South Africa - Zulu)

1990 - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela freed from prison after 27 years.

Up to the 1970s, freedom for Nelson Mandela seemed less likely than a snowfall on a Jamaican beach. So when the impossible happened, I dressed in my Ghanaian outfit and went as close to African soil as I could. A group of us went to the Nigerian Embassy in Jamaica, and celebrated with drums and dancing. Later, we marched from the embassy to a park that was re-named for Nelson Mandela. "I have to wrap my mind around being able to go home again." South African told me. A freedom fighter, she had been exiled for decades.

For most of 27 years spend in prison, Nelson Mandela was locked up on Robben Island. He could leave his prison cell only to break rocks in a quarry. Further, as a political prisoner he could receive only one visitor and one letter every six months. The censors often delayed Mandela’s letters, and marked them up so badly that he was often unable to read the letters. Nonetheless, Mandela found creative ways to communicate with the outside world.

In 1985, the apartheid government offered to release him in exchange for giving up the anti-apartheid struggle. Nelson responded by stating, “"What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

People all over the world celebrated Nelson’s unconditional release. On the day of his release, he said:

Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon, so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was president of South Africa from May 1994 to June 1999.

Also on this date in:

1644 - First Black legal protest in U.S. by 11 Blacks who petitioned for freedom in NY.

1979 - Grammy award winning singer, actress Brandy born Brandy Rayana Norwood in McComb, Mississippi.

2007 – Barack Obama launched his US presidential campaign

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Black History Month - Marcus Garvey and Mary Seacole

What happens to the rooster can happen to the chicken too. (Mozambique, Zimbabwe)

1935 - Marcus Garvey wrote "First Message to the Negroes of the World From Atlanta Prison"

Only when I lived in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana did I understand what Marcus Garvey achieved for Black people all over the world. In Ghana, Marcus was a hero, Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist model and mentor. In Jamaica, the British rulers of the time led us to believe Marcus Garvey was a scamp and a thief.

This Black man who left school at fourteen, made the colonial powers nervous when he created the greatest mass movement for Black people, stretching from Latin America to Australia. It was no wonder that he attracted the attention of J Edgar Hoover, head of the United States general intelligence division.

Hoover, threatened by Marcus’ message of Black pride and dignity, tried to find ways to expel Marcus from the United States where he had set up his headquarters. Hoover wrote in a memo, “Unfortunately, however, he [Garvey] has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation.”

Ultimately, Marcus was charged with mail fraud. His organization, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was selling stock of the Black Star Line. It was alleged that the UNIA had not yet bought the ship that was shown in the stock brochure. Marcus’ followers saw this as a trumped-up charge, as the Black Star Line owned other ships, and was negotiating the sale of the disputed ship.

Marcus was tried and sentenced to five years in a Georgia prison. He started serving his sentence on February 8, 1925, and on February 10 he wrote a famous letter in which he stated:

Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.

2004 – Mary Seacole named the Greatest Black Briton

I was among the first students to live in Mary Seacole Hall, a hall of residence for
female students attending the University of the West Indies. Before that, my colonial education had featured Florence Nightingale, but not a whisper about this Jamaican woman who was also a nurse in the Crimean War.

Mary Seacole (1805-1991) learned tropical medicine from her mother who had a boarding house in Port Royal, Jamaica, where she nursed army officers and their wives. After Mary’s mother died, she took over the boarding house and her mother’s nursing practice. She later went to Panama where she also cared for the sick.

She traveled to Britain and offered to go to the Crimean war to treat wounded soldiers. When the authorities turned her down, she borrowed the money and went to Crimea by herself. During this war, she distinguished herself by treating soldiers from both sides while under fire on the battlefield. She dislocated her right thumb in one incident when she threw herself to the ground to avoid being blown up.

Mary Seacole succeeded despite the racism and sexism of her time. she was voted the most important person in Black British history in the 100 Great Black Britons award.

Both Mary Seacole and Marcus Garvey had global influence and became icons because
of their tremendous courage.

Also on this date in:

1927 - Leontyne Price was born

1937 - Roberta Flack was born

1966 - Andrew Brimmer is appointed by President Johnson to become the first African-American governor of the Federal Reserve Board.

1978 - Reggaeton artist Don Omar born William Omar LandrĂ³n Rivera in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Black History Month - Arthur Ashe and Alice Walker

To obtain equality is not a month's job. (Kenya (Gikuyu)

1944: Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of the Color Purple born

Alice Walker is probably best known for her novel, The Color Purple. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was made into a film that many of us have seen more times than we remember. The Color Purple was also adapted into a Broadway musical play, starring Fantasia Barrino who was American Idol in 2004.

Her activism places her close to my heart. She knew Jim Crow laws because she was born in Georgia to a father who was a sharecropper and a mother who worked as a housemaid. Influenced by Martin Luther King Jr, she registered voters in Mississippi and in Georgia during the 1960s. In March 2003, she was arrested in an anti-war protest outside the White House. Further, her writings focus on the struggles of women against racism and sexism.

But Walker's most greatest gift to us all, in my view, is restoring Zora Neale Hurston to her rightful place in literature. Hurston was forgotten and her work was out of print when Walker discovered her unmarked grave and read her stories. Thanks to Walker, we have access to Hurston’s inspired writings, and we have come to know her memorable characters from Their Eyes Were Watching God – Janie and Teacake. Thanks to her, also, Hurston’s gravesite now has a headstone.

1964 - Arthur Ashe, Jr. became first Black to play on U.S. Davis Cup team.

Arthur Ashe was the first Black picked to play for the US Davis Cup team. He was also the first (and only) African-American to be ranked #1 in the world. Before him, the most prominent Black tennis player was Althea Gibson. She was the first Black American woman to compete in a world tennis tour, and to win a Grand Slam title in 1956.

Ashe remains the only Black American player to win the men’s single at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.

Apart from being an outstanding tennis player, Ashe played a critical role as a human rights advocate. When apartheid South African authorities denied him a visa to play in the South Africa Open, he used this denial to call for South Africa to be expelled from the professional tennis circuit. He was arrested in 1985 for protesting during an anti-apartheid rally, and again in 1992 for protesting a crackdown on Haitian refugees.

Venus and Serena Williams owe much to trail blazers like Arthur Ashe.

Also on this date in:

1780 - Paul Cuffe & six other U.S. Blacks petitioned state legislature for right to vote claiming “no taxation without representation.

Cuffe, Walker, and Ashe have indeed shown by exanple that equality is not a month's job. The struggle continues...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Talkin' `bout fire doesn't boil the pot. (US Black Communities)

1986 - Oprah Winfrey became first Black woman to host nationally syndicated television talk show.

Oprah's talk has certainly kept a lot of fires burning and pots boiling!

On this date, 24 years ago, that she syndicated her programme. She started out at age 19 as a news anchor and moved on to a talk show. When she proved what she could do and moved that talk show to the top of the ratings, she left it behind. She plunged right, set up her own company, and went not just national but international as well. She used talk to create a talk show format that was tabloid, and then to recreate the format into something upscale, spiritual, uplifting.

She introduced media persons to the possibility of showing emotion and being the news as distinct from reporting the news. She makes news because she is an example of a success story. Here is someone who was born to a teenage mother in a country area of Mississippi, one of the poorest states. Father is absent, and for a while mother is absent too, and grandmother raises Oprah. So far the story is typical for a lot of people. Perhaps too many people I can think of in Jamaica where I live. She is sexually abused as a child, and too many women can identify with that as well. Just when it seems the story can’t get sadder or more typical, she gets pregnant when she is 14 years old. For some, all these circumstances indicate a sure downward slide. But not for Oprah.

Her seeming imperfections add to her popularity. She shared her struggles (and occasional victories) with her weight. She admitted that an author, whose book she promoted, misled her when his memoir turned out to be fiction. When the school she set up in South Africa had a scandal, she used that as an opportunity to address broader issues of abuse of women.

Talk helped Oprah to become America’s richest Black woman of the twentieth century. She used her wealth and her influence to support social causes such as education in South Africa and relief for survivors in New Orleans after the drowning of their city. The high point for most authors is Oprah's choosing their book for her Book Club. She has launched the media careers of persons such as Dr Phil and Dr Oz.

Next year, on the 25th anniversary of her show, she plans to leave it behind and invent herself again. To me, she is a prime example of having the courage and the vision to take charge of God-given talents. And having the wisdom to move on when the time is right.

She certainly proves that talkn' and actin' keep the fires burnin' and the pots boilin'.

Also on this date in:

1899 - Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson, jazz singer/guitarist who pioneered the role of jazz guitar and is recognized as the first to play single-string guitar solos, was born.

1944: Harry S. McAlpin was the first African-American journalist admitted to a White House press conference.

1995 - Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at