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Black History #10: The Sidi People of India (Part 1)


The Siddi also known as Siddhi, Sheedi, Habshi or Makrani, are an ethnic group inhabiting India and Pakistan. Members are descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by Arab and Portuguese merchants.mThe Siddi community is currently estimated at around 20,000–55,000 individuals, with Karnataka, Gujarat and Hyderabad in India and Makran and Karachi in Pakistan as the main population centres. Siddis are primarily Sufi Muslims, although some are Hindus and others Roman Catholic Christians.
Their faces are painted in shades of red, blue and green with designs symbolising traditional African body art, they wear bright orange tiger print skirts, straw caps and breathe fire. We are not talking about a circus troop, but of the Siddi tribe who don different avatars at different times of the day.

African by origin, Indian by nationality with Gujarati as their lingua franca – the Siddi tribe lives in a village called Jambur in the heart of Gujarat. Just like any other village, Jambur has red mud by lanes, houses with thatched rooftops and a few small local shops. Located approximately hundred kilometres from Junagadh, the village is surrounded by the forest of Gir, which is home to the last of the remaining Asiatic lions.

“We have completed 300 years in Gujarat and this is our fourth generation in Jambur,” said 60- year-old Siddique, speaking in heavily accented Afro-English.

This settlement did not happen out of choice but by force. According to the tribals, there is a long history to their presence in India. “The Nawab of Junagadh had once visited Africa where he fell in love with an African woman. They got married and she moved to India with him,” said Siddique. “She came to India with a hundred slaves and since then we have been based in Gujarat only,” he added.

Their claim to fame is their origin and they cash-in very well on this. They have a dual profession – although they do small time jobs in the day, they dance to the African beats at night. “There are many tourists visiting Gir and we entertain them with our performance. This helps us make some extra money,” said a member from the tribe in fluent Gujarati.

The Siddi tribe has seen much stardom. They have been a part of the Gujarat tourism video called “Khushboo Gujarat Ki.”

“The peak tourist season is from October 16 to June 15. We get several invitations from resorts and hotels in this region to come and perform the African dance. We had been invited to Iraq to perform but the event got cancelled,” said Siddique.

On a daily basis, the tribals are engaged in various occupations. They work on the fields, in the forest department, and some as tourist guides and truck drivers. “With the meagre salary it is very difficult to manage. This extra money helps us tremendously,” said Rasheed who is a truck driver. While many members of the tribe work in the forest, there are some who are in government jobs, earning up to Rs. 5,000 a month.

And as the night sets in, the Siddis once again dress up in their tiger prints and set out to perform another spectacular tribal tradition.

Some Sidis are keenly aware of their past, and a few remain in touch with relatives in Africa. But in the western Indian state of Gujarat – where most Sidis live – the community has lost touch with its roots. The village of Jambur, deep in the Gir forest, is one of two exclusively Sidi settlements. It is miserably poor. The headman explains that yes, everyone in Jambur is a Sidi. Their forbears came from Africa. But they have lost any knowledge of African languages, and don’t know where exactly their ancestors came from or why they settled in India.

The only remnant they retain of their African lineage is their music and dance. The Sidi community is very poor. This is what Professor Catlin, an ethno-musicologist, hopes to use to fill in the story of the Sidis. “In Gujarat, affinities with African music include certain musical instruments and their names”, she says, “and also the performance of an African-derived musical genre called “goma”. In the nearby town of Junagadh, a smaller group of Sidis lives alongside the shrine of Bava Gor, an ancient Sufi Muslim holyman who was himself of African descent. Their hold on their African past is a little more secure. They say they know a few songs in an African language, but not their meaning. And their dance is more obviously African. But again, their music, song and dance are the only links with their African past.

The Siddi tribe is perhaps one of India’s best-kept secrets. While the exact history of this tribe isn’t known, it is largely believed that the first Siddis arrived on Indian shores somewhere between the 10th and 14th centuries on Arab slave ships.

Over the centuries, they adopted the local culture. Today, they speak Gujarati, dress and eat just like the locals. Their physical features are the only thing that distinguishes them from the rest — they look distinctly African.

Anthropologists put their population between 20,000 and 30,000 and the government has granted them tribal status.

Besides Gujarat, the Siddis have also struck roots in parts of Karnataka and speak the local language. Some of them living in areas bordering Maharashtra like Belgaum speak Marathi.


Black History # 9: Henry Johnson “Black Death”

Via Smithsonian Magazine

Like hundreds of thousands of young American men, Henry Johnson returned from World War I and tried to make a life for himself in spite of what he had experienced in a strange and distant land. With dozens of bullet and shrapnel wounds, he knew he was lucky to have survived. His discharge records erroneously made no mention of his injuries, and so Johnson was denied not only a Purple Heart, but a disability allowance as well. Uneducated and in his early twenties, Henry Johnson had no expectations that he could correct the errors in his military record. He simply tried to carry on as well as a black man could in the country he had been willing to give his life for.

He made it back home to Albany, New York, and resumed his job as a Red Cap porter at the train station, but he never could overcome his injuries—his left foot had been shattered, and a metal plate held it together. Johnson’s inability to hold down a job led him to the bottle. It didn’t take long for his wife and three children to leave. He died, destitute, in 1929 at age 32. As far as anyone knew, he was buried in a pauper’s field in Albany. A man who had earned the nickname “Black Death” in combat was quickly forgotten. Details


Black History # 8: Claudette Colvin (Before Rosa Parks)


Few people know the story of Claudette Colvin: When she was 15, she refused to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person — nine months before Rosa Parks did the very same thing.

Most people know about Parks and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that began in 1955, but few know that there were a number of women who refused to give up their seats on the same bus system. Most of the women were quietly fined, and no one heard much more.

Colvin was the first to really challenge the law.

Now a 69-year-old retiree, Colvin lives in the Bronx. She remembers taking the bus home from high school on March 2, 1955, as clear as if it were yesterday.

The bus driver ordered her to get up and she refused, saying she’d paid her fare and it was her constitutional right. Two police officers put her in handcuffs and arrested her. Her school books went flying off her lap. Details


Black History #7: Missouri’s Dred Scott Case, 1846-1857

Via Missouri Digital Heritage

In its 1857 decision that stunned the nation, the United States Supreme Court upheld slavery in United States territories, denied the legality of black citizenship in America, and declared the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional. All of this was the result of an April 1846 action when Dred Scott innocently made his mark with an “X,” signing his petition in a pro forma freedom suit, initiated under Missouri law, to sue for freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. Desiring freedom, his case instead became the lightning rod for sectional bitterness and hostility that was only resolved by war. Details


Black History #6: Juan Almeida Bosque of the Cuban Revolution

Mr. Almeida was one of several Cuban vice presidents and had been among only three surviving rebel leaders who still bore the honorary title “Commander of the Revolution” — a title reserved for top leaders of rebel troops under Mr. Castro’s command in the 1950s.

A statement in government news reports on Saturday said Mr. Almeida would “live on forever in the hearts and minds of his compatriots.” Cuba declared Sunday a national day of mourning and ordered all flags flown at half-staff.

A bricklayer who began working at age 11, Mr. Almeida was the only black commander among the rebel leaders. He was one of the most important and decisive voices in the battle to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, as well as in the early years following the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the Cuban revolution.

Mr. Almeida was often seen at public events alongside the Cuban leader until Mr. Castro fell gravely ill in the summer of 2006 and finally resigned the presidency in February 2008. Mr. Almeida then became a mainstay beside Mr. Castro’s younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro.

With his white hair and mustache, Mr. Almeida was a highly visible member of Cuba’s ruling elite, sitting on the Communist Party’s Politburo and serving as a vice president on the Council of State, the country’s supreme governing body.

The government statement called him “a paradigm of revolutionary strength, solid convictions, bravery, patriotism and service to the people.” It said Mr. Almeida’s body would not lie in state, in accordance with his wishes, and funeral arrangements would be announced later.

Mr. Almeida, who was born on Feb. 27, 1927, joined the fight against Batista’s dictatorship in March 1952 as a young law student at the University of Havana, where he met Fidel Castro, another aspiring lawyer.

Mr. Almeida was at Mr. Castro’s side a year later, on July 26, 1953, when Cuba’s future president led an armed attack on the Moncada, a military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. It failed, and Mr. Almeida and both Castros were sent to a prison. But that failure launched the revolutionary battle that triumphed more than five years later.

Mr. Almeida and other survivors of the offensive were freed in May 1955 under an amnesty granted to the young revolutionaries. He accompanied the Castros and other comrades to Mexico, where they formed a guerrilla army.

They returned to Cuba in December 1956 on the American yacht Granma and launched their battle from the island’s eastern Sierra Maestra. Mr. Almeida, the Castro brothers and Ernesto Guevara, an Argentine known as Che, were among only 16 who survived the landing, in which most of the rebels were killed by government troops.

“No one here gives up!” Mr. Almeida shouted to Guevara at the time, giving the Cuban revolution one of its most lasting slogans and ensuring his place in Cuban Communist history. As a guerrilla leader, Mr. Almeida later headed his own front of military operations in eastern Cuba.

After Batista fled Havana in 1959, Mr. Almeida served in various military posts, ranging from head of motorized units to chief of the Rebel Army’s air force. He later was named a vice minister and chief of staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

He was a member of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee since its creation in 1965. His duties included welcoming new foreign ambassadors to Cuba and greeting other visiting dignitaries. He cut back on public activities in December 2003, however, citing heart problems.

Mr. Almeida also composed traditional Cuban music and wrote about his years behind bars and in the mountains.

Details of his personal life were always closely guarded, and it was not clear how many survivors he had.

via New York Times


Black History #5: Haitian Independence 1804–1805 (First Black Republic in the World)

Haitian Independence 1804–1805
1 January 1804
In Gonaïves, Dessalines proclaims Haiti’s independence, signaling the formation of the world’s first black republic. He publishes a Declaration of Independence, signed by himself and Christophe, and the colony “Saint-Domingue” is abolished forever. The original Taino name of Hayti is officially restored.

“The proclamation was a formal acknowledgement of the self-determination of those diverse and ordinary individuals of whom the black masses were composed.”

Though Haiti is independent, Haitians still fear that they will be invaded by outside forces. French troops remain in the eastern part of Hispaniola and France is actively lobbying England, Spain and the United States to isolate Haiti commercially and diplomatically. France emphasizes that Haiti is a threat to the countries’ plantation system and slaveholders. The global community shuns Haiti, a major contributing factor to Haiti’s later impoverishment.
Jan-Feb 1804

Dessalines orders the slaughter of the remaining French residents in Haiti after promising them protection. Blacks and mulattoes, most of them former slaves, exact revenge on the whites and as many as 4,000 are killed. They are urged on by Dessalines, who famously cried, “Koupe tèt, brule kay,” meaning, “Cut their heads, burn their houses.”

8 October 1804
Dessalines is crowned Emperor Jacques I of Haiti.

20 May 1805
Dessalines ratifies Haiti’s first constitution. To strengthen national unity and bring together the country’s various factions, the constitution proclaims all Haitians black. The constitution also legitimizes Dessalines’ regime, legalizing structures set in place since independence. The constitution reaffirms the permanent abolition of slavery, that all Haitians are free and equal; and above all Haitians’ inalienable right to land ownership.

Upon declaring independence, Haiti claimed a singular place in world history. The Haitian revolution, lasting from 1791 to 1804, culminated in the first independent nation in the Caribbean, the second democracy in the western hemisphere, and the first black republic in the world.

Since the revolution, over 200 years ago, Haiti has struggled with external and internal dilemmas. The revolutionary wars had destroyed nearly all of the country’s colonial infrastructure and production capabilities. In the 1800s Europeans and Americans ostracized the fledgling nation politically and economically, contributing to Haiti’s decline from one of the world’s wealthiest colonies to one of its most impoverished countries.

The 20th century ushered in an era of American occupation from 1915 to 1934 and totalitarian regimes under the Duvaliers from 1957 to 1987. After decades of political suppression, Haiti held new democratic elections and in 1991 President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took office. He was ousted just months later, and the following years were filled with coup d’états, military regimes, and daily violence.

In 2006, René Préval was elected president and since then Haiti has experienced a period of relative political and social calm. This stability was shaken most recently in 2008 when Haiti was hit by four successive hurricanes over the course of just weeks. The natural disasters resulted in hundreds of deaths, injuries and lost homes. Famine and disease swept the country, exacerbated by Haiti’s lack of infrastructure or governmental services.

Haiti will be recovering from these disasters for years, adding to its long list of challenges. Already the country is crippled by poverty. Additionally, Haiti has been commonly misrepresented for decades. American media, for example, have equated Haitians with savage voodoo ceremonies, HIV/AIDS, and “boat people” refugees beginning in the early 1900s. Aside from ignoring factual evidence, these accounts disregard the complexity and richness of Haiti’s resilient culture and people. Despite its poverty, Haiti is clearly an exceptional nation, and one that has had a profound impact on the world since it was claimed by Columbus over 500 years ago.

via Brown University


Black History #4: Marcus Garvey

Born in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) became a leader in the black nationalist movement by applying the economic ideas of Pan-Africanists to the immense resources available in urban centers. After arriving in New York in 1916, he founded the Negro World newspaper, an international shipping company called Black Star Line and the Negro Factories Corporation. During the 1920s, his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was the largest secular organization in African-American history. Indicted for mail fraud by the U.S. Justice Department in 1923, he spent two years in prison before being deported to Jamaica, and later died in London.

Born in Jamaica, Garvey aimed to organize blacks everywhere but achieved his greatest impact in the United States, where he tapped into and enhanced the growing black aspirations for justice, wealth, and a sense of community. During World War I and the 1920s, his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was the largest black secular organization in African-American history. Possibly a million men and women from the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa belonged to it.

Garvey came to New York in 1916 and concluded that the growing black communities in northern cities could provide the wealth and unity to end both imperialism in Africa and discrimination in the United States. He combined the economic nationalist ideas of Booker T. Washington and Pan-Africanists with the political possibilities and urban style of men and women living outside of plantation and colonial societies. Garvey’s ideas gestated amid the social upheavals, anticolonial movements, and revolutions of World War I, which demonstrated the power of popular mobilization to change entrenched structures of power.

Garvey’s goals were modern and urban. He sought to end imperialist rule and create modern societies in Africa, not, as his critics charged, to transport blacks ‘back to Africa.’ He knitted black communities on three continents with his newspaper the Negro World and in 1919 formed the Black Star Line, an international shipping company to provide transportation and encourage trade among the black businesses of Africa and the Americas. In the same year, he founded the Negro Factories Corporation to establish such businesses. In 1920 he presided over the first of several international conventions of the UNIA. Garvey sought to channel the new black militancy into one organization that could overcome class and national divisions.

Although local UNIA chapters provided many social and economic benefits for their members, Garvey’s main efforts failed: the Black Star Line suspended operations in 1922 and the other enterprises fared no better. Garvey’s ambition and determination to lead inevitably collided with associates and black leaders in other organizations. His verbal talent and flair for the dramatic attracted thousands, but his faltering projects only augmented ideological and personality conflicts. In the end, he could neither unite blacks nor accumulate enough power to significantly alter the societies the unia functioned in.

Finally, the Justice Department, animated by J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and sensing his growing weakness, indicted Garvey for mail fraud. He was convicted in 1923, imprisoned in 1925, and deported to Jamaica in 1927. Unable to resurrect the unia, he moved to London, where he died in 1940.

Garvey’s movement was the first black attempt to join modern urban goals and mass organization. Although most subsequent leaders did not try to create black economic institutions as he had, Garvey had demonstrated to them that the urban masses were a potentially powerful force in the struggle for black freedom.


Black History #3: Nat Turner Rebellion

Via The University of North Carolina

Nat Turner is widely regarded as one of the most complex figures in American history and American literature. October marks the anniversary both of his birth and of his arrest as the leader of one of the United States’ most famous slave rebellions.

Nat Turner was born October 2, 1800 on a plantation in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner was deeply committed to his Christian faith and believed he received messages from God through visions and signs in nature. When he was in his early 20s, these signs led him to return to his master after an escape attempt. Similarly, a solar eclipse and an unusual atmospheric event are believed to have inspired his insurrection, which began on August 21, 1831.

Nat Turner’s rebellion was one of the bloodiest and most effective in American history. It ignited a culture of fear in Virginia that eventually spread to the rest of the South, and is said to have expedited the coming of the Civil War. In the immediate aftermath of the rebellion, however, many Southern states, including North Carolina, tightened restrictions on African Americans. Over the course of two days, dozens of whites were killed as Turner’s band of insurrectionists, which eventually numbered over fifty, moved systematically from plantation to plantation in Southampton County. Most of the rebels were executed along with countless other African Americans who were suspected, often without cause, of participating in the conspiracy. Nat Turner, though, eluded capture for over two months. He hid in the Dismal Swamp area and was discovered accidentally by a hunter on October 30. He surrendered peacefully.

The Confessions of Nat Turner appeared shortly after Turner’s capture. Published as the definitive account of the insurrection and its motivation, the “confession” remains shrouded in controversy. Thomas Gray, a lawyer, released the account, claiming that Turner had dictated the confessions to him and that there was little to no variation from the prisoner’s actual testimony. However, as a slaveholder mired in financial difficulty, Gray likely saw tremendous profit and propaganda potential in satiating the public’s thirst for knowledge about such an enigmatic figure. In addition, literary critics have consistently pointed to discrepancies in Turner’s language and tone throughout the document. They suggest that Turner and Gray’s agendas conflict consistently in the text and thus create the ambiguity that has characterized the document for over a century and a half.

The Confessions of Nat Turner is part of three collections on DocSouth: “North American Slave Narratives,” which includes all the existing autobiographical narratives of fugitive and former slaves published as broadsides, pamphlets, or books in English up to 1920; “The Church and the Southern Black Community,” which presents a collected history of the way Southern African Americans experienced and transformed Protestant Christianity into the central institution of community life; and “The North Carolina Experience, Beginnings to 1940″ collects a wide variety of print and manuscript materials that tell the story of the Tar Heel State.


J Cole – Be Free (Mike Brown Tribute)

Via Huffington Post

A week after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, people across the country are demanding justice, including a multitude of entertainers and other public figures. Roc Nation artist J. Cole is the latest to add his voice with a new track titled, “Be Free.”

Backed by a news report with a sound bite from Dorian Johnson, Brown’s friend and eyewitness to the shooting, the piano-driven ballad demands peace and calls for an end to gun violence.

In a statement, the 29-year-old Cole said he is “tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men.”

There was a time in my life when I gave a fuck. Every chance I got I was screaming about it. I was younger. It’s so easy to try to save the world when you’re in college. You got nothing but time and no responsibility. But soon life hits you. No more dorms, no more meal plan, no more refund check. Nigga need a job. Nigga got rent. Got car note. Cable bill. Girlfriend moves in and becomes wife. Baby on the way. Career advances. Instagram is poppin. Lebron leaves Miami. LIFE HITS. We become distracted. We become numb. I became numb. But not anymore. That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend. I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a fuck if it’s by police or peers. This shit is not normal. I made a song. This is how we feel.
Rest in Peace to Michael Brown and to every young black man murdered in America, whether by the hands of white or black. I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice. Only then will we all Be Free.