Influential Figures

William Edward Burghardt DuBois

I have been called one of the greatest scholars in history, a towering figure, a brilliant scholar and a prolific writer. I was born February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1890 I graduated from Harvard University and attended the University of Berlin in 1892. I became the first Black person to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. After teaching at Wilberforce University in Ohio and the University of Pennsylvania, I went on to establish the first department of sociology in the United States at Atlanta University.

I was the author of scores of significant books, including three major autobiographies. Among my most important work is The Philadelphia Negro in 1896, Souls of Black Folk in 1903, John Brown in 1909, Black Reconstruction in 1935, and Black Folk, Then and Now in 1939.

My book, The Negro significantly influenced the lives of other pioneer African scholars. In 1940 I founded Phylon – a magazine published out of Atlanta University. I also authored The World and Africa, a very important work first published in 1946. In 1945 I also played a major role at the historic Fifth Pan-African Conference held in Manchester, England.

In addition to my literary activities and profound scholarship, at one time or another during the course of my long life, I could be characterised politically as an integrationist, Pan-Africanist, Socialist and Communist. I was a founding member of the NAACP. In 1961, during the twilight of my life, I was honoured by an invitation from  President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to head a secretariat for an Encyclopedia Africana. I died in Accra, Ghana August 27, 1963 as a Ghanaian citizen.

My name William Edward Burghardt DuBois, remember me I’m part of your history.

Cheikh Anta Diop

I was a modern champion of African identity that was born in Senegal on December 29, 1923. At the age of twenty-three, I journeyed to Paris to continue advanced studies in physics. Within a very short time, however, I was drawn deeper and deeper into studies relating to the African origins of humanity and civilisation.

I became more and more active in the African student movements then demanding the independence of French colonial possessions, I became convinced that only by re-examining and restoring Africa’s distorted place in world history could the shackles of colonialism be lifted from our minds.

My initial doctoral dissertation submitted at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1951 was based on the premise that Egypt of the pharaohs was an African civilization. It was rejected. Regardless, this dissertation was published in 1955 and won me international acclaim. Two additional attempts to have my doctorate granted were turned back until 1960 when I entered his defence session with an array of sociologists, anthropologists and historians and successfully carried my argument. After nearly a decade of effort, I finally won!

I also published the Cultural Unity of Black Africa and Pre-colonial Black Africa. I also continued my research and established a radiocarbon laboratory in Dakar. In 1966, the First World Black Festival of Arts and Culture held in Dakar, Senegal honoured me as a scholar who had made the greatest influence on African thought in twentieth century.

In 1974, a milestone occurred in the English-speaking world when the African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality was finally published. It was also in 1974 that I and Theophile Obenga collectively and soundly reaffirmed the African origin of pharaonic Egyptian civilization at a UNESCO sponsored symposium in Cairo, Egypt. In 1981, My last major work was Civilization or Barbarism.

I was the Director of Radiocarbon Laboratory at the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (IFAN) at the University of Dakar. I sat on numerous international scientific committees and achieved recognition as one of the leading historians, Egyptologists, linguists and anthropologists in the world. I travelled widely, lectured incessantly and was cited and quoted voluminously. I am regarded by many as the modern `Pharoah’ of African studies.

My name is Cheikh Anta Diop, remember me I’m part of your history.

John Henrik Clarke

I was born in Union Springs, Alabama on New Years Day, 1915. My family came from a long line of sharecroppers. We moved to Columbus, Georgia, when I was four years old.

I had a teacher, Eveline Taylor who put me straight. She told me that, “It’s no disgrace to be alone. It’s no disgrace to be right when everybody else thinks you’re wrong.

Those words would stay with me when I later taught the junior Bible class at a local Baptist church. I noticed that although many bible stories unfolded in Africa, I saw no African people in the printed materials used in Sunday school. I began to suspect that someone had distorted the image of my people. This is where I began my long search for the true history of African that took me to libraries, museums, attics, archives and collections in Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and Africa.

What I found was that the history of Black people is worldwide; that the first light of human consciousness and the world’s first civilizations were in Africa; that the so called Dark Ages were dark only for Europe and that some African nations at the time were larger than any in Europe; that as Africa sends its children to Europe to study because that is where the best universities are, early Greece once sent its children to Africa to study because that was where the best universities were; and that slavery, although devastating was neither the beginning nor the end of Black people’s impact on the world.

I gathered my findings into books on such figures as the early 20th century mass movement leader Marcus Garvey, into articles with titles like “Africa in the Conquest of Spain” and “Harlem as Mecca and New Jerusalem,” and many books including American Heritage’s two volume “History of Africa.”

And in little churches and big community centres, I brought my findings to life in talks to Black audiences hungry for a history so long lost, stolen or strayed.

While I was teaching at Hunter College in New York and at Cornell University in the 1980’s, my lesson plans became well known for their thoroughness. They are so filled with references and details that the Schomburg Library in Harlem asked for copies. I provided them so that 50 years from now, when people have a hard time locating my grave, they won’t have a hard time locating my lessons.

You must know your history because it is a clock we use to tell our time of day. It is a compass to find our self on the map of human geography. It tells us where we are, but more importantly, what we must be.

My name is John Henrik-Clarke, remember me I’m part of your history.

Muhammad Ali

I was born January, 17, 1942, in Louisville, USA and became the world heavyweight boxing champion, which was my professional career. I was stripped of my title and boxing license because I refused to fight in the Vietnam War in 1966.

My career kicked-off with my Olympic Gold Medal in boxing in 1960 that led to me becoming the three time World Heavyweight Champion for 1964-67, 1974-78, 1978-79. I was and remain today considered by many to be The Greatest heavyweight champion of all time.

I gained a reputation for my outspokenness and lyrical charm and I would beat my opponents psychologically before I got them in the ring to batter them with my fists and dazzle them with my feet.

I started boxing at 12 years old. A White patrolman called Joe Martin started me off but it was a Black trainer named Fred Stoner who taught me how to move with the grace so I could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Sonny Liston knows all about that little rhyme.

As a young man I met Malcolm X and joined the Nation of Islam as a Muslim. I didn’t believe in the war so I refused to fight in Vietnam. The White man was not going to send me as a Black man to fight a war against a yellow man. I took my politics and my beliefs straight into the media. I avoided no question. Did any of you see the Michael Parkinson interview?

I demanded respect and learned how to use the media to my benefit. I used rhymes and press-grabbing claims to get money for boxing, and I was my own public relations manager. If I were like a lot of other heavyweight boxers I wouldn’t be here right now. I’m not saying they’re weren’t other good boxers. Some could almost fight as good as me. I’m just saying you’ll never hear about them because they got no jive.

When I was a young Cassius Marcellus Clay a waitress looked at me and said ‘Sorry, we don’t serve coloureds.’ So after winning a gold medal for America I went to a bridge, tore the medal off my neck and threw it into the river. That gold medal didn’t mean a thing to me if my Black brothers and sisters were treated wrong in a country I was supposed to represent.

Oh you all must have seen the fight against Joe Frazier right? He hit me with punches that’d bring down the walls of a city. I lost that one but I regained my title as world heavyweight champion in 1974 after defeating George Foreman in a bout staged in Zaire. It was the rumble in the jungle. Then I beat Frazier twice to re-secure my title.

The one challenger that I didn’t manage to win was against Parkinson’s syndrome. That’s the only thing that gives away the fact that I’m not Superman.

You know who I am. I was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, who changed my name to Muhammad Ali, remember me I’m part of your history.

Paul Bogle

I was born before the abolition of slavery and lived at Stony Gut in St. Thomas, Jamaica.I grew-up when slavery was ending. The plantation owners did not want us to be free and they did not want us to get land. We wanted land that would give us security and independence. We wanted to grow our own food but the British Government told us to work hard on the planters’ sugar estates.

Most people in St. Thomas were small farmers and labourers. I owned about 500 acres of land. I could read and write. I could also vote. Only 106 people in St. Thomas could vote at this time. I was better-off than many other people.

When we freed ourselves, most of the rulers tried to keep us down. They made us pay high taxes, and they punished us. They did not give us fair trials in court. We were not to get justice or opportunities but I was a friend to poor people.

My neighbour was George William Gordon, a big landowner, and a politician who cared about poor people. I voted for him, and got other people to do so too. Gordon was a Baptist, and so was I. In 1864 Gordon made me a deacon in the Baptist church so I became a religious and political leader of my people.

I led a group of people from Stony Gut to Spanish Town to tell the Governor about our problems but people in Stony Gut gave up hoping that the Government would help them.

One day, in 1865, two men from Stony Gut were on trial in the Morant Bay Court House. Some of us went to support them. A man called out in the trial and the police tried to arrest him, but we came between them and the man got away. The police went to Stony Gut to arrest me. But the people did not let them. They fought the police and sent them back to Morant Bay.

Then we marched to Morant Bay. We went to the Courthouse where a council meeting was going on. Armed policemen and soldiers were on guard. A fight broke out and the guards fired. About 20 of us were killed or hurt. The others drove the guards back into the Courthouse and set fire to the building then killed people who tried to run away.

We went back to Stony Gut. The Government sent troops into Portland and St. Thomas to stop people rebelling against the Government. The troops shot and whipped many people. They burnt 1,000 houses. My followers killed a few people and burnt some estates but they could not really fight, because the soldiers were well trained and they had lots of weapons.

The troops destroyed Stony Gut, and my chapel. I was captured and taken to Morant Bay where I was put on trial. I was hanged at the Court House. Four hundred and thirty-eight other people were also executed.

The Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 made the Government listen to the people. It forced the Government to try to make life better for us by setting up fair courts, making better roads and providing better education and better medical services. I did not die for nothing. I am a Jamaican national hero to my people who died for what was right.

My name is Paul Bogle remember me I’m part of your history.

Stephen Biko

I was born in King William’s Town, South Africa. I excelled in school as a youth but my political activities caused me to be expelled from Lovedale High School. I was still able to continue on to college where I received a scholarship to attend St. Francis College in Natal, a liberal Catholic boarding school. While in Medical School, I became involved in the National Union Of South African Students, a multiracial politically moderate organisation.

It was while I was in Natal that I began truly questioning the apartheid system and the conditions that my people were forced to endure. I became more involved in the daily struggle that faced Black people, and I decided to quit medical school.

In 1968, I became the cofounder and first president of the all-Black South African Students’ Organisation. We raised Black consciousness in South Africa through lectures and community activities. I concluded that the apartheid system had a psychological effect on the Black population, which had caused us to internalise and believe White racist stereotypes. We were convinced that we were inferior to Whites, which resulted in the hopelessness that was prevalent in the Black community. I preached Black solidarity to “break the chains of oppression”.

My activities eventually drew the attention of the South African government resulting in me being restricted from talking to more than one person a time in an attempt to suppress the rising political movement. The banning did not stop me. For the next four years, I continued to spread his message at gatherings and with my underground publication called “Frank Talk”. During this period I was often harassed, arrested, and detained by the South African Police.

On August 18, 1977, I was seized by the police and detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act. This law had resulted in the loss of freedom of over 40,000 Blacks in South Africa since 1950. The law permitted the police to hold me in jail indefinitely and this ended in my violent death.

I was held in prison for twenty-four days were I was interrogated, starved, and brutally beaten. It wasn’t until I was laying unconscious, that the doctors suggested that I be transported to Pretoria for medical treatment, 740 miles away. On September 12, 1977, I became the forty-first person in South Africa to die while being held in the custody of the South African Police.

The official autopsy concluded that my death was due to a brain lesion caused by the “application of force to the head”. The officers who were responsible for me while I was detained were absolved of any wrong doing by a South African court.

My death had a great impact on the people of South Africa and stunned the world. My funeral was attended by more than 15,000 mourners, not including the thousands that were turned away by the police. My legacy lives on through the struggle I helped to ignite and through the freedoms that South Africans now possess.

My name is Stephen Bantu Biko, remember me I’m part of your history.