This month was dedicated to the women of the Africa Diaspora. Thanks for joining me as I used the American celebration, Women's History Month, to recognize the contributions that women have made in the history of the African Diaspora.
For the last 4 years, 4 months, and 20 days, I have posted a blog post every day. This will be my last blog post. I have learned and grown a lot from posting over the years, but I believe my time for blogging has expired. Thank you to those who have been readers and supporters of my blog, you are appreciated.
On to bigger and better!
In May 1802, while a few months pregnant, the Mulatto Solitude took part in the Guadeloupian uprisings against the reinstatement of Lacrosse, who had been appointed Captain-General of Guadeloupe by Napoleon Bonaparte and expelled in October 1801 following a coup by the army’s officers of colour. After her arrest, Solitude was imprisoned and subsequently tortured, possibly to death, a day after giving birth. Solitude symbolizes all Caribbean women and mothers who fought for equality and freedom from slavery. -unesco
In 1971, Wangari Maathai received a Ph.D., effectively becoming the first woman in either East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate. She was elected to Kenya's National Assembly in 2002 and has written several books and scholarly articles. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her "holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights, and women's rights in particular." Maathai died of cancer on September 25, 2011, in Nairobi, Kenya. -biography
During the 10th century B.C. we hear of the deeds of Makeda — a near-legendary African woman. This queen had the qualities of an outstanding ruler and seems to have governed over a prosperous land encompassing parts of both East Africa and Southwest Asia. In the Quran, she is known as Bilqis, in the great epic of Ethiopia called the Kebra Negast, she is called Makeda, and in the Bible and in the popular imagination of the Western world she is known as the Queen of Sheba. These texts show an unmistakable image of a well-developed land characterized by the elevated overall posture of women. And Makeda was not an isolated phenomenon. Either their deeds or inheritance or both enabled such Black women to stand out singularly and individually. -atlantablackstar
Nzingha, also known as Ann Nzingha, is the great national figure of precolonical Angola. The extraordinary scholar John Henrik Clarke referenced her as the “greatest military strategist that ever confronted the armed forces of Portugal.” Nzingha was born in Central Africa around 1582 and her brilliance was recognized early on. The fact that she was a woman was not an impediment to her ability to lead. Toward the middle of her life, she became increasingly aggressive in her desire to maintain the power and dignity of the people of Central Africa. Indeed, her military campaigns kept the Portuguese in Africa at bay for more than four decades. Her goal was the final and complete eradication of the Portuguese capture and enslavement of African people.
Nzingha sent ambassadors and representatives throughout West and Central Africa with the goal of building a massive coalition of Africans to eject the Portuguese.
Nzingha died fighting for her people in 1663 at the ripe old age of 81. -atlantablackstar
Shirley is an English composer of Jamaican descent. In 2004, she became the first woman in Europe to have composed and conducted a symphony within the past 40 years. She was also the first woman to compose and musically direct music for a major drama series at the BBC. She’s been nominated for and won an array of awards from honourable establishments including the Arts Council and Southbank Centre. Debunking the myth that black folks only do soul, hip-hop and R&B, she is a groundbreaking classical music leader who walks alone. Pure class. -metrouk
Lilian Bader was born in 1918 in Liverpool and went on to become one of the very first black women to join the British Armed Forces.
Starting out as a canteen assistant at an army base in Yorkshire, she eventually trained as an instrument repairer, before becoming a leading aircraftwoman and soon afterwards earning herself the rank of Corporal.
Three generations of her family served in the armed forces.
When she left the army to have children of her own, she retrained and got a degree from the University of London to become a teacher. -bbcuk
Angela Davis, born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, became a master scholar who studied at the Sorbonne. She joined the U.S. Communist Party and was jailed for charges related to a prison outbreak, though ultimately cleared. Known for books like Women, Race & Class, she has worked as a professor and activist who advocates gender equity, prison reform and alliances across color lines. -biography
Another prominently outspoken and visible opponent of South Africa’s apartheid regime was Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa, and the Empress of African song. Makeba was not only involved in radical activity against apartheid but also in the civil rights movement and then black power. In fact, she was married (albeit briefly) to the Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, who was her fourth husband out of five. She said:
Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can’t do anything about that. -afropolitan
Rose Lokissim (1955-1986) was a Chadian solider and opponent of Hissène Habré. She was one of the first elite female soldiers in Chad and began fighting against the dictatorship in 1982. Imprisoned in 1984, she was tortured for eight months. During her incarceration, she managed to record and smuggle out the names of prisoners and accounts of abuses committed by the political police. The latter, however, intercepted her documents and she was, for this reason, executed on May 15th, 1986. -unesco
Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883) was a leading activist, speaker and teacher at the forefront of the African-American struggle for civil rights. Resolutely non-sectarian, she acted as a bridge between issues such as women’s rights, abolition, and religious freedom. Her astute exploitation of her reputation, through photography and print, helped her to become one of the most well-known orators of the nineteenth century. -unesco
As a celebrated Malagasy woman politician of the twentieth century, Gisèle Rabesahala (1929-2011) devoted her life to her country’s independence, human rights and the freedom of peoples. The first Malagasy woman to be elected as a municipal councillor (1956) and political party leader (1958), and to be appointed minister (1977), she is regarded as a pioneer in Malagasy politics. -unesco
Queen Nanny was an eighteenth-century leader, warrior and spiritual advisor. Born in 1686 in present-day Ghana, Western Africa, she was sent as a slave to Jamaica, where she became leader of the Maroons, a group of runaway Jamaican slaves. She is believed to have led attacks against British troops and freed hundreds of slaves. She was also known as a powerful Obeah practitioner of folk magic and religion. -unesco
Born in Accra in the Gold Coast to parents with roots in Barbados, Trinidad and Dominica, Margaret Busby became Britain’s youngest and first Black woman book publisher, when in 1967 she co-founded Allison & Busby with Clive Allison (1944-2011).
“We started off with virtually no money and thought we would go into making volumes of poetry accessible and affordable to young people like ourselves. So we printed 15,000 paperback poetry books priced at 5 shillings. Our idea of distribution was stopping people on the street and asking them to buy our books”.
Busby went on to become A&B’s editorial director for 20 years, publishing a cluster of significant titles such as Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door, Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen, C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins, and George Lamming’s The Pleasures of Exile.
Though A&B did not exclusively publish Black authors, it was nevertheless a major catalyst for bringing the work of several writers from the African Diaspora to critical public attention. Other authors included Val Wilmer, Miyamoto Musashi, Michele Roberts, Rosa Guy and Andrew Salkey.
Busby subsequently became the editorial director of Earthscan, before pursuing a freelance career as an editor and writer.
She is hopeful about the future of writing in the 21st century, which has been democratised by the web.
“Nowadays, the technology permits you to be your own publisher and editor, which should encourage a lot of us, especially our young people, to write and express themselves.”
As a frequent Wikipedia author, she believes that more people of colour need to document important figures in African and African-Caribbean communities – past and present. However, Busby cautions that writing is demanding, frequently unglamorous and financially unrewarding.
“Write because you really enjoy it and learn to be a good reader because the best writers read voraciously. Get to know the best books out there, and please, don’t give up the day job.”
Despite the challenges faced by young writers, especially young African writers, she is optimistic. -blackhistorymonthuk
Nicknamed ‘the Diva of the desert’, Dimi mint Abba (1958-2011) was a Mauritanian singer. Born in Tidjikdja, she grew up in a family of Iggawin (‘griots’). Her father, Sidaty Ould Abba, wrote Mauritania’s national anthem. At the age of 18, Dimi mint Abba won first prize in the Mauritanian Radio competition thanks to her talents as a performer and musician. She represented her country in a number of international festivals. -unesco
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, Shirley Chisholm is best known for becoming the first black congresswoman (1968), representing New York State in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven terms. She went on to run for the 1972 Democratic nomination for the presidency—becoming the first major-party African-American candidate to do so. Throughout her political career, Chisholm fought for education opportunities and social justice. Chisholm left Congress in 1983 to teach. She died in Florida in 2005. -biography
To educate, campaign and write in order to raise women’s awareness and promote their rights: such was Mariama Ba’s credo throughout her life. She belonged to the first generation of Senegalese women who attended French school during the interwar period. She was as much a pioneer in the domain of literature, as she was in the women’s movement. The impact of her first novel in and beyond Senegal, in which she denounced polygamy and confronted the problems of the caste-system, testifies to her emblematic status. -unesco
Luiza Mahin, born at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was an Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter. A natural leader, Mahin became involved in revolts and uprisings of slaves in the Brazilian province of Bahia. A street vendor by profession, she used her business as a distributory cell for messages and leaflets in the resistance struggle. She played a central role in the significant “Revolta dos Males” (1835) and “Sabina” (1837-1838) slave rebellions. -unesco
In addition to being a groundbreaking Ethiopian model, Liya Kebede is an active and vocal philanthropist committed to the health of women, infants and children. Born and raised in Ethiopia, she was discovered as a child by a French film director who recommended her to modelling agencies. After finishing her education in Africa she moved to Paris and began a successful modeling career during which she has modeled for ‘Gap’, ‘Tommy Hilfiger’, ‘Yves, Saint-Laurent’, ‘Victoria's Secret’, ‘Revlon’ and many other major labels. Shortly after her arrival in America she featured in the first issue of 'Vogue' which was entirely dedicated to a single model and also signed a contract that made her the first person of color to model for ‘Estée Lauder’. In addition to modeling she has also appeared in many films in supporting and starring roles. Throughout her career she has used her wealth and celebrity status to fund many philanthropic projects that support the health and well-being of women and children around the world. She is also a fashion designer with a personal clothing line that provides jobs to traditional Ethiopian craftsmen and keeps African weaving customs alive. Today she lives with her family in New York City and continues to support health related humanitarian causes. -thefamouspeople
Wangari Maathai (1940–2011) was a Kenyan scholar and environmental activist. She founded the pioneering Green Belt Movement in 1977, which encourages people, particularly women, to plant trees to combat environmental degradation. Her holistic approach eventually led her to link environmental responsibility to political struggles of governance, human rights and peace. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. -unesco
Born on May 3, 1898, in Charleston, South Carolina, Septima Poinsette Clark branched out into social action with the NAACP while working as a teacher. Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970. In 1979, Jimmy Carter honored her with a Living Legacy Award. She received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor, in 1982. In 1987, Clark's second autobiography, Ready from Within: Septima Clark and Civil Rights, won an American Book Award (her first autobiography, Echo in My Soul, had been published in 1962). Clark was 89 when she died on Johns Island on December 15, 1987. Over her long career of teaching and civil rights activism, she helped many African Americans begin to take control of their lives and discover their full rights as citizens. -biography
Born in 1952 in Jamaica, Olive came to live in south London aged nine. From her early teenage years, she became involved in community and political activism in Brixton.
She was a member of the Black Panther Movement, helped set up various women's groups, including the Brixton Black Women's Group and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent, and was central to the squatter campaigns of the 1970s.
During her student years in Manchester (1975-78), Olive also became involved in the community struggles in Moss Side, contributing to the formation of the Black Women's Mutual Aid and the Manchester Black Women's Co-op.
Olive Morris died tragically young in 1979, aged only 27, of non Hodgkin's lymphoma (a type of cancer) leaving a strong legacy behind her.
In 1986 Lambeth Council named a building after her, Olive Morris House on Brixton Hill, in recognition of her lifetime achievements.
More recently, Olive Morris was voted by members of the public to feature on the one pound note of the Brixton £, a local currency created to boost the economy in Brixton.
Future ideas in remembrance of Olive Morris organised by members of ROC include an exhibition at Gasworks, with an accompanying public programme of events and workshops; a publication to be launched at the end of the exhibition in January 2010; and a community radio series. -bbcuk
Francisca da Silva de Oliveira, better known as Chica da Silva (or spelled Xica da Silva), was a Brazilian woman born into slavery, who went on to gain her freedom and become a powerful and well-known member of Brazilian society.
Silva was born between the years 1731 and 1735 (exact year is unknown) to a slave mother, Maria da Costa, and a white man, Antonio Caetano. Her mother was a slave in Domingues da Costa, but Silva was born in the village of Milho Verde. Silva’s baptism was celebrated around 1734 by Reverend Mateus de Sa Cavalcanti.
Living in Tejuco before 1749, Silva was enslaved to Portuguese physician, Manuel Pires Sardinha. Silva served as a domestic slave to Sardinha and bore two children to her owner as a result of her enslavement.
Jose da Silva de Oliveira became Silva’s next master and was later forced to sell Silva to Jose Fernandes de Oliveira, a diamond mine owner. Silva began a romantic relationship with Fernandes de Oliveira. Through this romantic relationship, Silva was able to gain her freedom when Oliveira decided to change her status to freedwoman.
From her relationship with Oliveira, Silva assumed the nickname “Girl in charge.” This was due to her newly-gained immense wealth that came with being in a relationship with a diamond contractor. She soon moved into a castle-like house that had many luxuries, including a private chapel, and it was the only house in the area with a fully-equipped theater.
Silva and Oliveira had thirteen children together. In 1770 Oliveira was required to return to Portugal. He decided to take his sons with him, and Silva stayed in Tejuco to raise their daughters, where she dedicated most of her time to their education. Her children went on to enjoy successes in their lives, including a nomination as the chief judge’s immediate heir and a rank of colonel in the cavalry of Minas Gerais. Silva was able to retain her status after her white partner left, despite her being a person of color.
Silva’s life has been highly romanticized in popular culture. Her life became the subject of a movie, telenovela, and songs. The telenovela, originally shown in Brazil, has been successful in many countries throughout the world. The person who depicts her in the telenovela, Tais Araujo, is the first and only black Brazilian to star as the protagonist of a telenovela.
Silva passed away in 1796. She was granted the privilege only known to wealthy whites of being buried at the Church of Sao Francisco de Assis. Records indicate her name was associated with the status of freedwoman. -blackpast
Aoua Keita (1912-1980) was a Malian midwife and anti-colonial activist. Born in Bamako, she won admission to the city’s first girls’ school in 1923. She went on to study midwifery at the Dakar School of Medecine, graduating in 1931. A member of the African Democratic Rally (RDA), she contributed to establishing women’s wings within the party, and was placed in charge of electoral campaign literature in the various posts to which she was sent as a midwife in the civil service.
In 1958, she was named as the RDA’s Commissioner for Women, and the following year was elected to Parliament, thereby becoming the first woman from French-speaking West Africa to be elected to the national legislative assembly of her country. In 1956, in parallel to her political activities, Aoua Keita set up a women’s trade union, and later participated in the creation of a Panafrican women’s organization.
Fighting for an improvement in the living conditions of African women, she was instrumental in the drafting and eventual enactment of the Marriage and Guardianship Code (1962), which afforded new rights to women in Mali. Her autobiography, published in 1975 and rewarded with the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire a year later, is the remarkable account of the professional and political commitment of an African midwife in the colonial era. -unesco
Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. She was of mixed race birth. Her father was a Scottish officer in the British army and her mother a free Jamaican Creole.
As a child, the young Mary was fascinated with medicine, and from her mother, she began learning many traditional Caribbean and African medicines. Mary gained a wide knowledge in treating endemic illnesses such as yellow fever.
With the help of a ‘kind patroness’ (local elderly, rich lady) Mary achieved a good education and trained as a nurse.
In 1821, she visited London for a year and was exposed to some of the racial prejudices of the time. In the Caribbean, slavery was still legal until it was partly abolished in 1834 and fully abolished in 1838. The Victorians had a diverse range of attitudes to racial issues. Some, like those campaigning to abolish slavery, believed in the equality of races, others sought to prove the Negro race were scientifically inferior. Mary undoubtedly experienced a range of different attitudes, especially when seeking employment as an official nurse in the Crimean War. However, Mary did notice that because her skin colour was lighter brown (being of mixed race stock) she was subject to less racism.
In one experience, in 1852, Mary was travelling between Panama and the United States when she spent time in the company of American traders. After leaving a dinner she records hearing an American say of her “God bless the best yaller woman he ever made” However, Mary was incensed as he later went on to say that “if we could bleach her by any means we would […] and thus make her acceptable in any company as she deserves to be”
Mary responded in her autobiography by saying:
“I must say that I don’t appreciate your friend’s kind wishes with respect to my complexion. If it had been as dark as a nigger’s, I should have been just as happy and useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value: and as to his offer of bleaching me, I should, even if it were practicable, decline it without any thanks.”
It was a reflection of the racist attitudes of the time, but, Mary was always proud of her mixed race origin. -biographyonline
If I shall die before they wake, I pray the Lord my shades are safe.