Progress in spite of bitter backlash: STATE OF THE AFRICAN NATION, Part 5
We’re closing in on the modern era of the African nation in an effort to explain its situation in the world today. The story began in antiquity with Africa—birthplace of man—and the people who are the genetic source of all mankind. The next 7,000 years of civilisation resulted in the most culturally rich and diverse landmass on the planet with over 10,000 nations, ranging from hunter-gatherers to city states to empires, all with complex religions, governments and ways of life.
Europe arrived in the 1400s, beginning worldwide military invasions which over the next 500 years would slaughter over 500 million people, stealing resources from every inhabitable land mass. The system set up to keep the trillions of dollars in stolen wealth in the hands of the west was a global system of apartheid with legal, educational, social, religious, political, and economic laws of white privilege over brown over black.
Slavery created “the plantation”—a western institution repeated as “the reservation”, “the concentration camp”, and “the ghetto”. In the plantation hundreds of techniques of psychological manipulation were trained towards the breaking of African will by the removal of African memory, godhead, science and culture—to brainwash a new type of slave. Africans resisted: retaining culture at the threat of death; escaping to create maroon communities; and organising revolts culminating in the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint which defeated three empires—the only successful slave revolution in human history.
During this period African labour built most of the infrastructure of the New World—clearing away forests, changing the course of rivers, planting tens of thousands of miles of cotton and sugar, building harbours, roads and cities, even innovating and inventing processes in factories, docks and domestic life. An entire hemisphere was transformed by African labour and skill. This lasted for 300 years.
African resistance, ex-slave and European emancipators, and economic competition brought about slavery’s end. But the most important note is that “there were no reparations for Africans!” There was, instead, reparations for slave owners—tens of millions of dollars. This refusal of the west to compensate or recognise 300 years of unpaid labour is the central act under-developing the African diaspora. Africans remain the only wronged people not paid reparations for genocidal acts. This stance is so ingrained that Haiti, a victorious state, paid reparations to nations it defeated! The money Haiti paid France bankrupted Haiti for the next 200 years and is the main reason for its underdevelopment.
Despite this—and the injustice of releasing an unpaid, landless ex-slave population into a hostile world —the post-slavery period featured 150 years of African accomplishment. In the first age—1830-1930—Africans acquired skills at a phenomenal rate, creating working and educated classes—laying a foundation for communal wealth. The next age, from 1930-1970, was graced by a series of African-led cultural golden ages and organised mass movements which transformed the face of the world. This whole period was characterised by a series of African “firsts” and geniuses who accomplished historic feats against relentless hostility.
The period 1830-1930 saw an entire class of African artisans, traders, politicians, businessmen, lawyers, educators and scholars emerging, trying to create a new society amidst stubborn racist structures. Just out of slavery American scholars noted with shock the sheer volume of scientific patents and inventions being registered by Africans. This is the period of “Firsts”—each of these stories is an epic in itself—first African surgeon, first African cricket captain, first African heavyweight champion, first African senator… Every gain was fought. No victory was left sacred.
The backlash against black advancement happened everywhere — in the Caribbean, in Latin and in North America—where it was particularly dread. In the 1860s in ten states, coalitions of freed slaves and progressive whites formed biracial state governments. They introduced programmes and institutions including the founding of public schools and charitable institutions.
Violent opposition emerged from a vigilante organisation—the Ku Klux Klan. The very image of black legislators was a call to arms. White conservatives called “Redeemers” regained “white-only” control—state by state —using fraud and violence.
This period ended with Jim Crow laws which enshrined second-class citizenship for Africans until the 1960s Civil Rights. Another example is Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma—known as the Black Wall Street, home to prominent black businessmen including multi-millionaires. The Tulsa Race Riot occurred on June 1, 1921. All of 35 square blocks of homes and businesses were flattened by angry whites, killing men, women, and children. Over 600 successful African businesses were lost, 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two cinemas, a hospital, bank, post office, libraries, schools, law offices, six private airplanes and a bus system.
The stories of these pioneers battling institutional racism could fill several national libraries—and should. Frederick Douglass, Jack Johnson, Dr James McCune Smith, Macon Allen, Mzumbo Lazare, Bessie Coleman, Fauntleroy Julian, JJ Thomas, Ralph Bunche, Frank Worrell, Jackie Robinson, Matthew Henson, Marshal Taylor, Vivien Thomas and thousands more. Each story is heartbreaking, inspirational, and necessary to understand how much the democratic life of the modern world is built on African pioneers. Stories to be found nowhere in our mainstream history, museums, media, education, and spiritual centres. Yet this is the history of the 20th century! If African descendants knew what was sacrificed in their name they would be more careful with the life in their hands.