When the advent of colonialism swept across Africa, it was extremely insurmountable for most of the African leaders to resist the military might of the Europeans. Colonization was effected through a powerful mix of trickery, religion and military force.
“This country is mine and no other nation can have it,” Emperor Menelik said in a response to Italy’s claim that it had created a protectorate within his territory. This is the attitude that made him look at colonialism straight in the face and defeat it.
Emperor Menelik II was born as Sahle Maryam on 17 August 1844 and died on 12 December 1913. Born into royalty, he was the son of King Haile Menekot, who was the governor of the province of Shewa. Haile Menekot had laid it clearly that he was going to be succeeded by his son Sahle Maryam, but when he died in 1855, Tewodros II launched an attack on Shewa and conquered it. Menelik was taken as a prisoner by Tewodros II and transferred him to the mountain stronghold of Magdala. Tewodros raised him as a son, treating like a prince and even offered him his daughter for a hand in marriage (he accepted the offer).
In 1865, Menelik escaped so that he could claim back Shewa. The non-royal Ato Bezebeh had been appointed governor of Shewa. Upon Menelik’s return to take back Shewa, Ato ran away. Menelik immediately discharged his charm offensive to win the affection of the people and also in building strategic alliances. He created friendships with Muslims, organized three-day feasts for the locals, created alliances with the French and Italians for political leverage and firearms. He was renowned for his infectious friendliness. More importantly, he was known as a loyal, brave, intelligent soldier who “loved weapons.”
When Tewodros II died in 1868, Menelik developed aspirations for power, with the aim of being the Emperor. But he had to be patient. He had to wait. He had to submit to Tekle Giorgis (1868–1872) and Yohannes IV (1872–1889). During the time he had to wait to take power, he incorporated several kingdoms and states of southern Ethiopia into his reign. He now had the support he desired.
Francis Williams is reputed to be the first person of African ancestry to graduate from Cambridge University.
Williams was born around 1702 to John and Dorothy Williams, a free African couple in Jamaica. John Williams had been manumitted by the will of his former master. Furthermore, a petition was filed in Jamaica on behalf of John Williams in 1708, resulting in him “being granted the rights to the known laws, customs, and privileges of an Englishman.” Williams acquired land and used enslaved Africans to work his crops of sugar cane. By 1716, John Williams had a wife and two sons, Thomas and Francis.
It is unclear how Francis Williams became the subject of a social experiment by the second Duke of Montagu. The Duke was anxious to know if a black person, trained at a grammar school and then a university, could be the literary equivalent of a white man trained in the same manner. The duke reportedly sponsored Williams being schooled at Cambridge University in England. Williams claimed to have graduated from the university, making him the first person of African ancestry to attend and graduate from Cambridge, but no record of his attendance has been found.
Williams took the oath of citizenship in England in 1723, the same year his father died. He then returned to Jamaica the following year to take over his father’s business. Yet, he ran into opposition from white elite society on the island while he reportedly looked down on the blacks who were still mostly enslaved. Williams was described by Jamaican historian Edward Long as “haughty, opinionated, one who entertained the highest opinion of his own knowledge, treated his mother with disdain, and behaved towards his slaves with a severity beyond cruelty.” Williams’ desire to secure a position in local government was turned down by white British colonial officials, but he still wrote an ode for each incoming royal governor. Williams gained some acclaim as a poet, specializing in Latin verse. He is best remembered for “An Ode to George Haldane” and is reported to have written “Welcome, welcome Brother Debtor”.
Williams opened a school in Spanish Town, Jamaica where he taught reading, writing, Latin and mathematics, until his death in 1770 at the age of 68. At the time of his death, Williams owned sixteen slaves. A portrait of Williams hangs in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The work was acquired in 1928 and was painted by an unknown artist. The portrait features Williams as a scholar in his study. The evidence of his education are clearly visible, including a celestial and a territorial globe. Beautifully-bound books line the shelves behind him and his left hand rests on an open book the artist claims as titled Newton’s Philosophy. The portrait reflects the style of European portraits of elite gentlemen of the era, but an open window reveals a view of Spanish Town, that situates Williams firmly in his Jamaican home town.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a princess of the Egbado clan of the Yoruba people, is best known as the goddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Bonetta was born in 1843 in what is now southwest Nigeria. Her parents’ names are unknown as are the names of her siblings who were all killed in the 1847 slave raid that made Bonetta a captive.
Bonetta’s village of Okeadan was attacked by King Gezo of Dahomey, the most notorious slave trading monarch in West Africa in the early 19th century. Intent on capturing slaves and killing those not taken, Gezo’s men seized the four year old girl. For reasons that are unclear, the girl was not killed and remained at Gezo’s Court until 1849 when British Commander Frederick Forbes landed the HMS Bonetta in Dahomey to persuade Gezo to give up slave raiding and trading. Forbes noticed the young girl and bargained for her life. He persuaded King Gezo to “give” her to Queen Victoria, saying “She would be a present from the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.” The girl remained with Forbes in West Africa for the next year where she was baptized and given the name Sarah Forbes Bonetta. Forbes wrote that “She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and [has] great talent for music… She is far in advance of any white child of her age in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection…”
Sarah Forbes Bonetta was taken to Great Britain and met Queen Victoria on November 9th, 1850 at Windsor Castle. The Queen was impressed by her intellect and entrusted her care to the Schoen family in Palm Cottage, Gillingham when Forbes died early in 1851. The Queen declared Sarah her goddaughter and paid her tutorial expenses. Young Sarah became a regular visitor to Windsor Castle.
Less than a year after she arrived, however, young Bonetta developed a cough believed to be caused by the climate of Great Britain. Queen Victoria arranged for her to be sent to what she believed was a better climate for Bonetta in Sierra Leone. There she was educated at the Female Institution, a Church Missionary Society school in Freetown. Bonetta excelled in music and academic studies but was unhappy prompting the Queen to bring her back to England in 1855.
In January 1862, 19-year-old Bonetta was a guest at the wedding of the Princess Royal Victoria, the eldest child of the Queen. In August of that year Bonetta herself was given permission by Queen Victoria to marry Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a 31-year-old wealthy Yoruba businessman from Sierra Leone. The couple married in an elaborate wedding at St. Nicholas Church in Brighton, England. Sarah arrived at the ceremony in an entourage that included ten carriages. The couple lived in Bristol, England briefly before returning to Sierra Leone.
While Davies continued his work, Bonetta began teaching in a Freetown school. Shortly after the marriage, she gave birth to a girl and was given permission by the Queen to name her Victoria. The Queen also became young Victoria’s godmother. In 1867 Sarah and her daughter visited the Queen again. For Sarah this would be her last visit. Her cough continued and she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Bonetta had two more children but died in 1880 at the age of 37. Queen Victoria continued to provide for Sarah’s daughter. She supported young Victoria’s education and gave her an annuity. Young Victoria continued to visit the royal household for the rest of her life. Many of the Bonetta-Davis descendants live in and around Lagos, Nigeria.
Betty Shabazz, wife and later widow of Malcolm X, became an important political activist after the assassination of her husband in 1965. Betty Shabazz was born Betty Dean Sanders to parents Ollie May Sanders and Shelman Sandlin. Ollie May Sanders was a teenager and Sandlin was 21 when Betty was born. They were unmarried. Early records indicate that Betty was born in Pinehurst, Georgia on May 28, 1934. Because Betty was neglected by Ollie May Sanders, she was eventually placed with Lorenzo Don Malloy and Helen Lowe Malloy who became her foster parents.
Betty Sandlin grew up as part of the black middle-class in Detroit, Michigan. The Malloys instilled in their foster daughter the value of education, grace, and Christian ethics. They also taught her the ideals of black self-help and protest through the National Housewives League which Helen Mallory started in order to support black businesses and boycott stores that refused to hire African American workers.
Shabazz graduated from Northern High School in Detroit in 1952 and enrolled in Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where she began studying elementary education. She switched her major to nursing after months of working at the front desk on the campus hospital. In 1953 Sandlin left Tuskegee and enrolled at Brooklyn State College of Nursing in New York City. She earned her undergraduate degree three years later in 1956.
That same year, after attending many lectures of Muslim minister Malcolm X (formerly Malcolm Little), Betty Sandlin joined the Nation of Islam. She became Sister Betty X and for the first time began to publicly acknowledge racism in America. In January 1958 Malcolm and Betty married when Betty was twenty-three years old. Their Arabic name was Shabazz.
Betty Shabazz gave birth to daughters Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, and Gamilah. Shortly after Malcolm’s assassination in 1965, their twins Malikah and Malaak were born. Shabazz raised her six girls on her own, always trying to stay out of the media spotlight. She wanted her daughters to have a normal home life and full education. She also wanted them to know their identity.
By the early 1970s, Shabazz began giving public lectures that focused on the African American condition. While her speeches never challenged white supremacy in the manner of her husband’s orations, she through her own style, fought for education and human-rights causes, as well as issues crucial to women and children.
In 1970 Betty Shabazz earned a Master’s degree in public health administration at Jersey City State College. Afterward, she held part-time positions in New York area colleges where she taught remedial reading and childhood health care, while she was completing her Doctorate in Education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She received a degree in 1975. In the fall of 1976, Dr. Betty Shabazz joined the faculty of Medgar Evers College. She initially taught health sciences but eventually became the College’s director of public relations.
Shabazz spent her final years trying to remind audiences of the historical legacy of her husband Malcolm X. By the early 1990s renewed interest in Malcolm X, including the 1992 Spike Lee film of the same name with Denzel Washington playing the title role, helped increase popular awareness of that legacy. Betty Shabazz died in the summer of 1997, three weeks after her 12-year-old grandson, Malcolm, set fire to her Yonkers, New York apartment. Shabazz was 63.
Joseph Echols Lowery was an American minister in the United Methodist Church and a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957. Lowery was born on October 6, 1921 to Leroy and Dora Lowery in Huntsville, Alabama.
Because of an incident where Lowery at age 11 was punched by a white police officer, his father sent him to Chicago to stay with relatives and complete middle school there. Lowery returned to Huntsville in the 1936 complete his high school studies at William Hooper Council High School. After graduating in 1939, Lowery enrolled in Knoxville College, then Alabama A&M College in Huntsville (Now Alabama A&M University) before transferring to Paine College in Augusta, Georgia where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology in 1943. A year later, he enrolled in Paine Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio for ministerial training but later transferred to the Chicago Ecumenical Institute where he received his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1950.
After college, Lowery met and married Evelyn Gibson in 1950. The couple had three daughters, Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery, and Cheryl Lowery Osborne. Lowery also had two sons from a previous marriage to Agnes Moore, Joseph Jr and LeRoy II. Lowery and Agnes married sometime in the early 1940s and divorced sometime in the mid 1940s.
Lowery’s first assignment as pastor was the Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama from 1952 to 1961. While at Warren Street, he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association whose mission was to desegregate buses and public places in Mobile. In 1956 he became involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott that began with the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955. In 1957, Lowery, Martin Luther King Jr, Fred Shuttlesworth, and other ministers, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
In 1961, Lowery participated in marches and sit-ins in Nashville. Lowery took a position as administrative assistant to Bishop Michael Golden in Nashville but then returned to Birmingham, Alabama in 1964 to become pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church. While there he participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. In 1968, Lowery moved to Atlanta, Georgia to become pastor of Central United Methodist Church. There he worked with Rev. Ralph Abernathy who became president of SCLC after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. Lowery become the third SCLC president after Abernathy resigned in 1977.
In 1982, Lowry and Jesse Jackson led a march from Tuskegee, Alabama to Washington to promote the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Continuing his religious duties, Rev. Lowery served as pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia from 1986 to 1992. Lowery also retired from the pulpit in 1997 and retired as SCLC president a year later.
In 2001, Clark Atlanta University established the Joseph E. Lowery Center for Justice and Human Rights. Five years later Lowery spoke at Coretta Scott King’s funeral where he openly criticized the war in Iraq and the absence of any meaningful government effort to fight poverty in the United States.
On January 20, 2009, Lowery spoke at newly elected President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. Later that year he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Among his other honors were an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and Fred L. Shuttleworth Human Rights Award in 2009.
Reverend Joseph Echols Lowery died on March 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of 98.
[image description: Beyoncé in the music video for “Love Drought” marching into the water followed by a procession of black women] Beyoncé’s LEMONADE is filled with incredible artistry and stunning imagery. For me, one of the most striking images on the visual album occurs in the video for “Love Drought”. Much has been said about how LEMONADE draws influence from Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, but less has been said about how the story of Igbo Landing is central to Daughters of the Dust or about how the story of Igbo Landing – an act of mass resistance against slavery – also shows up in a very pronounced manner in the “Love Drought” video.
[Donovan Nelson’s depiction of Igbo Landing in charcoal. It shows the Igbo slaves marching into a body of water with the water already up to their necks and their eyes closed. Image via Valentine Museum of Art] For those who don’t know, Igbo Landing (or Ebos Landing) is the location of a mass suicide of Igbo slaves that occurred in 1803 on St. Simons Island, Georgia. A group of Igbo slaves revolted, took control of their slave ship, grounded it on an island, and rather than submit to slavery, marched into the water while singing in Igbo, drowning themselves. They unanimously chose death over slavery, and their act of mass resistance against the horrors of slavery became a legend, particularly among the Gullah people living near the site of Igbo Landing. Not only is the story of Igbo Landing one of the key themes of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, which influenced LEMONADE, but its imagery also appears to be central to the “Love Drought” video. In the video, Beyoncé marches into the water followed by a group of black women all in white but with black fabric in the shape of a cross on the front of their bodies. They march deeper and deeper into the water before pausing and raising their hands toward the sunset.
[Beyoncé marching into the water followed by other black women] This scene – and the video as a whole – occurs in a marshy landscape matching African-American folklore descriptions of the location of Igbo Landing. This is combined with imagery of Beyoncé physically bound in ropes and resisting their pull, which directly evokes slavery, resistance, and the events at Igbo Landing.
[Beyoncé on a beach leaning backward, resisting the pull of a taught rope] The action of raising their hands towards the sunset symbolize how the act of mass resistance at Igbo Landing has been mythologized in many African-American communities as either “water walking” or “flying.” In one version of the myth, the Igbo slaves walked into the water and then flew back to Africa, saving themselves. In other versions, they transformed into birds and Here is how Wallace Quarterman, an African-American man born in 1844, reold the legend when he was interviewed by members of the Federal Writers Project in 1930” Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and … Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good…. Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then … rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa…. Everybody knows about them. (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/ebos-landing)
[Image description: Beyoncé and several black women partially submerged in water by a beach and raising their arms toward the setting sun] Seeing Beyoncé and a group of black women marching into the water and raising their hands collectively toward the sunset reminded me specifically of this last interpretation of the story of Igbo Landing where the slaves flew to their freedom.
There are lots of potential interpretations for this video and the visual album as a whole but the core imagery of the “Love Drought” video – marshy landscape matching folklore descriptions of the location of “Igbo Landing,” images of Beyoncé bound in ropes and resisting their pull, a collective march into the water and holding their hands out toward the sky as if they were about to fly away together-basically screamed out to me as the story of Igbo Landing as I watched the video. It’s such a powerful act of mass resistance against slavery and as an Igbo person living today in America, it was moving to see imagery which reminded me strongly of it in LEMONADE as well.