Black History Month: Unsung Heroes of Pan-Africanism

Black History Month: Unsung Heroes of Pan-Africanism

Purpose of Black History Month

Black History month, also popularly known as African-American History Month lasts the entire period of February (1st -28th). It is believed this month was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of two heroes who played key roles in the abolishing of the slave trade in America, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Americans set aside a few weeks each year to focus their historical hindsight on the contributions that people of African descent have made to their country.

The theme for Black History Month 2018 was “African Americans in Times of War”. This marks the end of the first world war in 1918 and explores the complex meanings and implications of this international struggle and its aftermath.

Black History Month events are typically held in theaters and expressed through dance, music, visual arts and spoken word. There are also special classes and celebrations arranged within schools, and African and Caribbean societies at universities put on special events and lectures. Museums and art galleries have special themed exhibits, and there are also many special themed shows about Black History Month on the TV and Radio.

There have been several logos that depict what Black History Month stand for and a lot of resources available online for people who want to learn more about the celebration. Some Black History Month resources for primary schools can be found when you visit the website of National Education Association.

Black History Month Facts

These are some facts about black history they don’t teach in school:

  • The generation after World War 1 began to have a sense of racial pride and consciousness. The decade of the “New Negro” was the 1920s.
  • The UK celebrate Black History Month in October
  • Ernie Davis was offered more than 50 scholarships at a time when universities did not typically offer financial assistance to black athletes.
  • A black American record producer, musician, composer and film producer, Quincy Jones, is the most Grammy-nominated artist in the history of the awards with 76 nominations and 26 awards
  • Muhammad Ali never refused an autograph request because when he was young he was refused an autograph by his boxing idol, Sugar Ray Robinson  
  • Robert Tanner Jackson became first African American to receive a degree in dentistry in February6, 1867
  • On February 15, 1851, black abolitionists invaded a Boston courtroom and rescued a fugitive slave.
  • Cathay Williams posed as a man (William Cathay) and became the one and only female Buffalo soldier to be enlisted in the 38th infantry. A doctor discovered her sexual identity after two years.

Blacks Leaders and Pan-Africanism

Pan-Africanism has become a worldwide movement where Africans and black people in the diaspora have become more aware of their self-value and encourage the strengthening of bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent. Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois is considered the father of modern Pan-Africanism because of his tremendous and consistent advocate for the study of African history and culture.

Other names that pop up when it comes to Pan-Africanism are Dr. Kwame Nkrumah,Thomas Sankara, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere and the list goes on and on. However, there are lesser known giants of Pan-Africanism whose impact have contributed massively to the spreading of the good ideas of revolution all over Africa and beyond,believing that one day the seedlings of ideas planted will birth in others after them the true seedlings of the African revolution.  Below are a few of these great unsung heroes:

Rosa Parks

Black History Month: Rosa Parks smilingRosa Parks is arguably the person who literally sparked what was to become the civil rights movement in America. She is best known for the crucial role she played in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She is popularly known by the US Congress as “the first lady of civil rights”.

In 1955, African Americans were still required by a Montgomery, Alabama, city ordinance to sit at the back of city buses and to yield their seats to white riders if the front half of the bus, reserved for whites, was full. However, On Thursday evening December 1st 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the middle section of the bus to a white man after a long day at work as a seamstress for a department store.

Rosa Parks sat in a section of the bus that was only reserved for white people. Three of the other black passengers on Rosa’s bus complied with the driver, but Rosa refused and remained seated. The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?” to which Rosa replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” The driver called the police and had her arrested. Later, Rosa recalled that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in.

Black History Month: Rosa ParksHer defiance of the law led to her arrest and came as a shock to everyone. This is what began the 381- day Montgomery Bus Boycott that helped launched efforts throughout America to put an end to segregation of public facilities.  

Black Americans with cars began to car pool and help those without cars get to their various places of work and back. Combining their efforts to transport citizens, about 108 cab owners and a private car pool of 200 were involved. Also, eight filling station proprietors were giving special discounts to auto owners transporting persons participating in the boycott.

The Montgomery City Lines lost between 30,000 and 40,000 bus fares each day during the boycott. The bus company that operated the city busing had suffered financially from the seven month long boycott and the city became desperate to end the boycott.

The Montgomery bus boycott began the modern Civil Rights Movement and established Martin Luther King Jr. as its leader. The rest of the story they say, is history.

Oliver Tambo

If you have ever heard of South Africa’s International Airport, OR Tambo International Airport, then you should know that it is named after Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo.

During his years in a South African political party called African National Congress (ANC), Tambo played a major role in the growth and development of the movement and its policies. This was at a time when South Africa was under a heavy apartheid government.  He was among the generation of African nationalist leaders who emerged after the Second World War and were instrumental in the transformation of the ANC from a liberal-constitutionalist organisation into a radical national liberation movement, capable and willing to challenge the apartheid regime on the battlefield.

Black History Month: Oliver TamboOliver Tambo presided over the ANC that was taking the fight to the enemy. The rise of the ANC’s popularity after the Soweto Uprisings was largely due to his efforts. After he was exiled, Tambo directed the South African struggle from Lusaka, Zambia and was responsible for making the struggle against apartheid not merely a South African issue, but raised it to an international moral crusade against racism. The campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners became an international rallying call that drew in the support of the world’s leading artists, thinkers, academics and thousands of public figures. His indefatigable efforts led to the increasing isolation of the apartheid regime, culminating in the Anti-Apartheid Act, passed with an overwhelming majority by the United States Congress in 1987.

Tambo united all anti-apartheid forces behind the vision of the ANC. His leadership skills and vision was the cohesive force that held the ANC together for three decades. Through the 30 years (1960 to 1990) that the ANC was banned by the apartheid government, Tambo was the ANC president for 23 years. Tambo was therefore ANC president through its darkest period, but he was still able to keep the ANC united and see it overcome apartheid.

Yaa Asantewaa

Black History Month: Yaa Asantewaa Yaa Asantewaa was the Queen Mother of Ejisu, a suburb of Kumasi in the Ashanti region of Ghana. She is remembered for leading the fight against British colonialists at the time. When Yaa Asantewaa and the Ashanti chiefs gathered secretly one evening in Kumasi to discuss how they should make war on the white men and force them to bring back the Asantehene (Chief of the whole Asante Kingdom) along with her own grandson whom the British had exiled, Yaa Asantewaa saw that some of the chiefs were afraid. Some said that there should be no war. They should rather beg the Governor to bring back the Asantehene.

Yaa Asantewaa suddenly stood up and spoke. This was what she said: “Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King. If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their King taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to Chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women.
We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”

This speech stirred up the men who went to fight the white men until they released the Asantehene. Yaa Asantewaa was chosen by a number of regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. This is the first and only example for a woman to be given that role in Asante history. For months the Ashantis were led by Yaa Asantewaa fought very bravely and kept the white men in the fort. However British reinforcements totaling 1,400 soldiers arrived at Kumasi and captured Yaa Asantewaa along with other leaders and sent them into exile.

Black History Month: Yaa Asantewaa There has been a statue of her erected in her honour at the Ejisu roundabout in the Ashanti region in addition to the Yaa Asantewaa Museum built in remembrance of her.

Queen Nanny

Black History Month: Queen NannyQueen Nanny is a Jamaican national hero who was born among the Asante people of Ghana and escaped from slavery after being transported to Jamaica.  Nanny and her four brothers (all of whom became Maroon leaders) were sold into slavery and later escaped from their plantations into the mountains and jungles that still make up a large proportion of Jamaica. Nanny and one brother, Quao, founded a village in the Blue Mountains, which became known as Nanny Town. She was known by both the Maroons (Africans who escaped from slavery on the island of Jamaica) and the British settlers as an outstanding military leader who became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis.

She was particularly important to her people in the fierce fight with the British, during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. She limited her attacks on plantations and European settlements and preferred instead to farm and trade peacefully with her neighbours. She did however make numerous successful raids to free slaves held on plantations and it has been widely accepted that her efforts contributed to the escape of almost 1,000 slaves over her lifetime. She was particularly skilled in organising the guerilla warfare carried out by the Eastern Maroons to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them.

Nanny’s life and accomplishments have been recognised by the Government of Jamaica and she has been honoured as a National Hero and awarded the title of “Right Excellent”. Currently, there are only seven such National Heroes and Nanny is conspicuous as the only woman. A modern portrait of Nanny, based on her description, appears on the Jamaican $500 note, the largest banknote in circulation in Jamaica. Although she has been immortalised in songs and legends, certain facts about Nanny (or “Granny Nanny”, as she was affectionately known) have also been documented.

Black History Month: nanny graveThese are some of the unsung heroes of the “Pan-African faith”. May we be motivated by them in Black History Month to emulate their good works. Let us passionately render our substance to realize an African renaissance. For throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil and oppression to triumph.

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