African bravery across world; from Canada to USA, Peru and at home


DURING slavery by Europeans and Americans, Black people did not lie down and die. The struggle always continued — to be free. Resistance to slavery had a long history, beginning in Africa itself. Rebellion would reach its peak in 1791, when the enslaved people of the French colony of St Domingue defeated three European powers to establish the first Black republic: Haiti.

Early African settlers in Canada:

SINCE the early beginning of the Canadian history, people of African descent have made significant contribution to the development of the great country. William Hall, became the first Canadian, sailor, the first Nova Scotian and first Black man to receive the [British] Victoria Cross for bravery and service. Celebrate the proud African heritage

William Hall, son of escaped African Americans during War of 1812 settled in Nova Scotia, Canada:

Top: Canadian postage stamp commemorating William Hall, above, first person of African descent and the first Canadian to win the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British Royal Navy

Top: Canadian postage stamp commemorating William Hall, above, first person of African descent and the first Canadian to win the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British Royal Navy

THE early Africans who settled in Nova Scotia were primarily fleeing from colonial America. William Hall’s parents, Jacob and Lucy Hall, escaped slavery from either Maryland or Virginia — depending on the commentator — during the War of 1812. The Hall family arrived in Nova Scotia as part of the Black Refugee movement whereby Africans were brought to Canada by the British Royal Navy in exchange for their assistance in resisting the rebelling British colony that would later become known as the United States of America.

During the War of 1812, the British frigate Leonard intercepted a slave ship bound from Africa to the United States and forced it to deposit its “ivory cargo” at Halifax. Among the freed captives hitherto marked to be auctioned as slaves in the southern states was William Hall’s father Jacob. Hall’s mother, Lucinda, who was a slave on a plantation near Washington, escaped her bondage when the British sacked and set fire to the American capital. She boarded one of the British warships that had conducted the raid and put into Halifax afterwards.

Born April 15, 1827 at Horton, Nova Scotia, William Hall (born William Edward) worked in Nova Scotian shipyards before going to sea with trading vessels at the age of 17 years. From 1847 to 1849, Hall served in the American merchant navy aboard the USS Ohio. On January 4, 1847, the Ohio sailed for the Gulf of Mexico arriving at Veracruz on March 22, 1847 to help in the siege of the city in the Mexican-American War. Veracruz soon surrendered.

Hall enlisted in Royal Navy on February 2, 1852, and served on the flagship Victory. He entered the Crimean War in 1854, serving on the Rodney. He also served on the Shannon as Captain of the Foretop. In 1857, he won the Victoria Cross for bravery while fighting in the Siege of Lucknow in what is known by the British as the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He was the first person of African descent and the first Canadian to win the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British Royal Navy.

Hall retired from the colonial wars to Horton Bluff, Nova Scotia. He died on August 25, 1904 and was buried at Lockhartville at the Hantsport Baptist Church Cemetery.

Viola Desmond: Challenged racial segregation

Long before Rosa Parks [USA February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005] on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, there was Viola Desmond (July 6, 1914 – February 7, 1965), an African Nova Scotian who fought racial discrimination in Canada.

In 1946 Viola Desmond challenged racial segregation at a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia by refusing to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre. Desmond’s case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada. In 2010, Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon, the first to be granted in Canada.

Canada’s $10 banknote (above) featuring Viola Desmond goes into circulation next (April, 2019) week. Photo: Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, holds note.

The African Coloured Hockey League of the Maritime, founded Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 1895

The African Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes was formed in 1895 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Comprised of the sons and the grandsons of runaway American slaves, the league helped pioneer the sport of ice hockey, changing this winter game from the primitive “gentleman’s past-time” of the 19th century to the to the modern fast moving game of today. In an era when many believed Blacks could not endure cold, possessed ankles too weak to effectively skate, and lacked the intelligence for organized sport, these men defied the established myths.

The Colored League was one of the most complex sports organizations ever created and was led by Baptist ministers and church laymen. Natural leaders and proponents of Black Pride, these men represented a concept in spots never before seen. Their rule book was The Bible. Their game book, the coded words and oral history derived from the experiences of American slavery and the Underground Railroad. Their strategy, the principles and teachings of American Black leader Booker T. Washington (the founder of the Tuskegee Institute) and a believer in the concept of racial equality through racial separation.

Twenty-five years before the Negro Baseball Leagues in the United States, and  22 years before the birth of the National Hockey League, the Colored League would emerge as a premier force in Canadian hockey and supply the resilience necessary to preserve a unique culture which exists to this day. Unfortunately, their contributions were conveniently ignored, or simply stolen, as White teams and hockey officials, influenced by the Black league, copied elements of the Black style or sought to take self-credit for Black hockey innovations.

The Colored Hockey League of Maritimes in Nova Scotia was formed in 1894 across the provinces of Canada.

Dr Nathan Francis Mossell

Nathan Francis Mossell born in Canada in 1856 became a doctor who helped establish Philadelphia’s 1st Black hospital.

Nathan Mossell was born in Hamilton, Canada in 1856, the fourth of six children. Both his parents, Eliza Bowers (1824 –?) and Aaron Albert Mossell I (1824 –?), were descended from freed slaves. According to Mossell’s autobiography, his mother’s stories of the discrimination and hardship their families faced strengthened her own children’s determination to succeed. Mossell’s maternal grandfather had resisted all attempts by his owner to make him work and was eventually freed. He married and settled in Baltimore, but the entire family, including Mossell’s mother, who was a child at the time, were deported to Trinidad. Mossell’s paternal grandfather, who had been transported from the coast of West Africa, managed to buy his freedom and that of his wife. He too settled in Baltimore, where Mossell’s father was born.

Mossell (July 27, 1856 – October 27, 1946) was the first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1882. He did post-graduate training at hospitals in Philadelphia and London. In 1888, he was the first black physician elected as member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society in Pennsylvania. He helped found the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School in West Philadelphia in 1895, which he led as chief-of-staff and medical director until he retired in 1933.

Josiah Henson & wife Nancy

In 1830, Josiah Henson & wife Nancy escaped from the US to Canada, founded African fugitive settlement.  On 10-28-1830 Josiah Charlotte Henson reach freedom in Canada, left Kentucky by foot 6 weeks earlier.

Oscar Stanton DePriest: Eected first African American City Council person in Chicago, USA

In 1915, Oscar Stanton DePriest was elected the first African American City Council person in Chicago. Two years later he established the People’s Movement Club as a political base outside of party politics channels in the racially polarized city. The Unity Hall building housed DePriest’s People’s Movement Club and would become the community headquarters for other prominent Chicago politicians such as William Dawson.

DePriest was particularly interested in mobilizing voters of the rapidly growing Black Belt of Chicago’s Second Ward. The community where Unity Hall is located was a bustling strip of Chicago’s South Side that was noted for its cabarets and limited housing. Unity Hall would serve as a community house to various organizations throughout the years.

From 1916 to 1919, approximately a half a million Blacks moved to Chicago’s Bronzeville community. The housing squeeze was due to the rise of industrialization and factory jobs in northern cities like Chicago. This resulted in an influx of Blacks from the South. Couple this with apartheid-style housing restrictions and the powder keg of racial tension in Chicago would lead to the infamous Chicago Race Riots of 1919.

Unity Hall was built in 1887 by architect L.B. Dixon. The red brick and terracotta building located at 3140 S. Indiana Avenue was originally built for a Jewish Social Organization called the Lakeside Club. This building is among the rare surviving 19th-century club-house architectural structures surviving in Chicago. This building structure is among the National Historic Landmarks.

HANNIBAL BARCA: The greatest Africa fighting general against Europeans

 In 247 before Christ (B.C.), the year Hannibal Barca was born, the Carthage empire was about 500 years old. Known as one of the greatest strategist in military history, the battles of Hannibal would strike a turning point in the history of the African continent.

Carthage had been settled by Phoenicians as a city-state in North Africa near the current Tunis. In his 1961 work, French Historian Gabriel Audisio comments that he considered “Hannibal to be neither a Phoenician, nor a Carthaginian, nor a Punic, but a North African… The majority of the Punic populace seems to have had African, indeed Negroid, ancestry.”

Whether described as Carthaginians, Phoenicians, or Punics of North Africa, according to Audisio’s research they were certainly a mix of aboriginal North Africans that included the native Berbers, Moors and other groups.

African Moors – North Africa Berbers and other peoples – conquered Spain and ruled it for 700 years and were responsible for bringing Europe out of the dark ages. The Great Mosque of Córdoba from their era is still one of the architectural wonders of the world in spite of later Spanish disfigurements

African Moors – North Africa Berbers and other peoples – conquered Spain and ruled it for 700 years and were responsible for bringing Europe out of the dark ages. The Great Mosque of Córdoba from their era is still one of the architectural wonders of the world in spite of later Spanish disfigurements

The Phoenicians were a Semitic language people. English writers and speakers can thank the Phoenicians for the current English phonic system. The English Alphabets were borrowed from the Phoenician script. Their cultural influence was wide throughout the Mediterranean Sea nations. They were known as skilled sea merchant traders. They ruled in pre-Roman and pre-historic Iberia (currently Spain and Portugal nations on the Iberian Peninsula), until losing against Rome in the Third Punic War. The city of Carthage (Tunis) was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC.

There is no picture of Hannibal in existence today. The well-publicized coin in historical records is frequently presented by commentators as a representation of Hannibal and his legacy of tamed elephants. While this writer was not able to find an academic source for this coin to confirm its date — which was more than 2,000 years ago. The existence of such coinage during some point during our common age is no surprise in light of Hannibal’s historical legacy.

What we do have are descriptions of Hannibal by commentators of his time. According to the Roman Historian Levy of the first century of our era, Hannibal was “fearless, utterly prudent in danger, indefatigable, able to endure heat and cold, controlled in eating habits, unpretentious in dress, willing to sleep wrapped in military cloak, a superb rider and horseman.” He was the son of the Carthage general Hamilcar Barca. There is no knowledge of his mother in the history records, not even her name. He had two brothers: Hasdrubal resided in Spain and Maharbal was captain of Hannibal’s calvary.

Carthage and Rome were at war during the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.). Both empires were seeking supremacy over the Mediterranean. Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca, general of the Carthaginian mercenaries, was infuriated about the western Mediterranean losses of Sicily and Sardinia. When Hannibal was 17 years old, however, his father was killed in an ambush in Spain, which was primarily under the rule of the North African empire. Hannibal would son step fully into his military career.

In October 218 B.C., during the Second Punic War, Hannibal had arrived at the Alps. His soldiers are said to have stretched for more than eight miles at the Alps, the foothills of the Roman Empire. Hannibal’s army of 100,000 men would trek and fight 1,500 miles to arrive at the Alps from Spain. Hannibal armies included Numidians, North Africans from an area roughly where Algeria now draws its boundaries. The Numidians were known as master horsemen who could guide their horses with their knees, leaving their hands free to use swords and throw javelins. They had fought attacks from European tribes like the Gauls.

Hannibal is said to have given this speech to the army of men who had survived and crossed the swift-flowing Rhone river:

“Why are you afraid?… The greater part of our journey is accomplished. We have surmounted the Pyrenees; we have crossed the Rhone, that mighty river, in spite of the opposition of thousands of Gauls and the fury of the river itself. Now we have the Alps in sight. On the other side of those mountains lies Italy…. Does anyone imagine the Alps to be anything but what they are–lofty mountains? No part of the earth reaches the sky, or is insurmountable to mankind. The Alps produce and support living things. If they are passable by a few men, they are passable to armies.”

Hannibal lost half of his army in the first two weeks into the Alps. Landslides were touched off by mountain tribes. Men died during hand battle with tribesmen. Starvation and disease were also companions of the embattled lot. Polybus, a Greek historian and contemporary to Hannibal, described Hannibal’s arrival to the Po Valley with about 26,000 men. At the Po Valley, Hannibal is said to have made this speech:

“Soldiers! You have now surmounted not only the ramparts of Italy, but also Rome. You are entering friendly country inhabited by people who hate the Romans as much as we do. The rest of the journey will be smooth and downhill, and, after one, or at most a second battle, you will have the citadel and capital of Italy in your possession.”

Commentators have speculated on why Hannibal spoke these words because the men were about to face the most difficult part of the journey. Friends did not wait in the Po Valley. Here, the Roman army would meet the men in battle. In retrospect, considering how far the men had come, there really was no going back at this point. The Carthaginians believed that Rome was considering an invasion of Africa. Hannibal believed he had to act through an overland attack on Roman to save Carthage. He would spend 15 years in Italy, winning many battles — such as the Battle of Cannae where he lost 6,000 troops to Rome’s 70,000 troops.

We know Hannibal did not succeed, but are astonished by how close he came to success. The second of the Punic Wars was over. When Hannibal eventually retreated with his army to Carthage, his army was defeated by Scipio Africanus in the Battle of Zama.  Always sought by the Romans, when Hannibal was about the age of 64 and to be taken prisoner, he took poison and is recorded to have stated:

“Let us now put an end to the great anxiety of the Romans who have thought it too lengthy and too heavy a task to wait for the death of a hated old man.”

Frederick Douglass: Abolitionist, author, thought leader

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. In his time, he was described by abolitionists as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855).

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He was also a believer in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, and in the liberal values of the U.S. Constitution. When radical abolitionists, under the motto “No Union with Slaveholders”, criticized Douglass’ willingness to engage in dialogue with slave owners, he famously replied: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, Maryland. The plantation was between Hillsboro and Cordova; his birthplace was likely his grandmother’s cabin east of Tappers Corner, (38.8845°N 75.958°W) and west of Tuckahoe Creek. The exact date of his birth is unknown, and he later chose to celebrate his birthday on February 14. In his first autobiography, Douglass stated: “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.”

Douglass was of mixed race, which likely included Native American and African on his mother’s side, as well as European. His father was “almost certainly white,” as shown by historian David W. Blight in his 2018 biography of Douglass.

He said his mother Harriet Bailey gave him his grand name. After escaping to the North years later, he took the surname Douglass, having already dropped his two middle names. He later wrote of his earliest times with his mother:

The opinion was … whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion I know nothing … My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant … It [was] common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. … I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day. … She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.”

After this early separation from his mother, young Frederick lived with his maternal grandmother, Betty Bailey. At the age of six, he was separated from his grandmother and moved to the Wye House plantation, where Aaron Anthony worked as overseer.  Douglass’s mother died when he was about ten. After Anthony died, Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, wife of Thomas Auld, who sent him to serve Thomas’ brother Hugh Auld in Baltimore. He felt himself lucky to be in the city, where he said slaves were almost freemen, compared to those on plantations.

Douglass first tried to escape from Freeland, who had hired him out from his owner Colonel Lloyd, but was unsuccessful. In 1836, he tried to escape from his new master Covey, but failed again. In 1837, Douglass met and fell in love with Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore about five years older than he. Her free status strengthened his belief in the possibility of gaining his own freedom. Murray encouraged him and supported his efforts by aid and money.

On September 3, 1838, Douglass successfully escaped by boarding a train from the newly merged Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad (P.W.& B.) railroad line to the great Northern cities.] The area where he boarded was a short distance east of the previous temporary P.W.& B. train depot in a recently developed neighborhood between the modern neighborhoods of Harbor East and Little Italy. The depot was located at President and Fleet streets, east of “The Basin” of the Baltimore harbor, on the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River. (This depot was replaced by the historic President Street Station, constructed 1849–1850; it was noted as a site of other slave escapes along one of many routes of the famous “Underground Railroad” and during the Civil War.)

Young Douglass reached Havre de Grace, Maryland, in Harford County, in the northeast corner of the state, along the southwest shore of the Susquehanna River, which flowed into the Chesapeake Bay. Although this placed him some 20 miles from the free state of Pennsylvania, it was easier to travel through Delaware, another slave state. Dressed in a sailor’s uniform provided to him by Murray, who also gave him part of her savings to cover his travel costs, he carried identification papers and protection papers that he had obtained from a free black seaman.

Douglass crossed the wide Susquehanna River by the railroad’s steam-ferry at Havre de Grace to Perryville on the opposite shore in Cecil County, then continued by train across the state line to Wilmington, Delaware, a large port at the head of the Delaware Bay. From there, because the rail line was not yet completed, he went by steamboat along the Delaware River further northeast to the “Quaker City” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an anti-slavery stronghold. He continued to the safe house of noted abolitionist David Ruggles in New York City. His entire journey to freedom took less than 24 hours.

Frederick Douglass later wrote of his arrival in New York City:

I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.

Once Douglass had arrived, he sent for Murray to follow him north to New York. She brought with her the necessary basics for them to set up a home. They were married on September 15, 1838, by a black Presbyterian minister, just eleven days after Douglass had reached New York. At first, they adopted Johnson as their married name, to divert attention.

After the Civil War, Douglass continued to work for equality for African-Americans and women. Due to his prominence and activism during the war, Douglass received several political appointments. He served as president of the Reconstruction-era Freedman’s Savings Bank. Douglass also became chargé d’affaires for the Dominican Republic, but resigned that position after two years because of disagreements with U.S. government policy.

Susana Baca: Ambassador of Afro-Peruvian Music and Peru’s First Black Cabinet Minister

In July 2011, Susana Baca accepted Peru’s President Ollanta Humala’s invitation to join his administration, making her the first cabinet minister of African descent to hold office in Peru. On accepting the post of Cultural Minister, Baca says that one of her goals is to combat discrimination against Peru’s African and indigenous populations.

“I am the symbol of inclusion,” said Baca to school students in her hometown of San Luis de Canete, reported the Associated Press. “I don’t hate the people who segregated us, who punished us, who hurt us. I just don’t want anyone else in our country to go through what I did.”

Baca has an approval rating of 62 percent in Peru, making her the country’s most popular cabinet minister, according to an 2011 Ipsos Apoyo poll. Baca is best known as a musical performer and musical anthropologist of Afro-Peruvian music. She is known as an out-spoken advocate for human rights and equality.

Africans in Peru

In 1527, Africans arrived in the modern nation of Peru as a result of the European slave trade to the west coast of Latin America. (But see also Olmec, kingdom from c. 1200 BC to 400 BC). Spain financed the establishment of  sugar cane plantations using slave labor in the river valley region of San Luis de Canete. It was more than 300 years later, in 1854, that Peru finally abolished slavery in the region.

At one point in Lima, Peru’s history, people of African descent were counted as the majority of this capital’s citizens — at approximately 40 percent. Today, approximately 10 percent of Peru’s 29 million people are of African descent, just under 3 million known. Many Afro-Peruvians have again migrated to cities such as Lima seeking work opportunities, reports The World Summit of Afro-Descendants. In August 2011, The World Summit of Afro-Descendants conference was held at the National University of La Ceiba in Honoduras. It was sponsored in part by the United Nations and designed to examine the African diaspora — including the estimated 150 to 200 million Latin Americans of African descent.

According to the World Summit’s report, Africans in Peru have a high rate of joblessness and work in low-income sectors. The work of women like Susana Baca helps improves conditions for people in this region. Baca is among the 2 percent of Afro-Peruvians who have earned a post-secondary education. Her work through the Peruvian government may have a favorable impact on laws and policies impacting African and indigenous people in Peru.

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