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Caribbean Contribution to Black History

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Law, government, Literature, Politics, science and economy, indeed in every area of life

By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

When the U.S. Postal Service recently issued a stamp commemorating the life and accomplishment of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black women elected to the U.S. House of Representative, it put the spotlight on people from the Caribbean.

Chisholm, who scored many firsts in her illustrious career as a public figure, including the first Black person to seek the presidential nomination of a major American political party paved the way for the Rev. Jessie Jackson and eventually President Barack Obama to seek to become the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party. The stamp was issued to coincide with the beginning of Black History Month.

But a perusal of history’s pages would provide solid evidence of the diverse and important contributions of Blacks from the Caribbean to global economic and social progress. The prosperity of the United States owed much of its success to the blood sweat and tears of Blacks, among whom were Caribbean immigrants. The chapters in American and global history featured the work of African-Americans and West Indians. Take the case of the Carolinas in the 17th and 18th centuries when that part of the country was a “colony of a colony” meaning a British colony that was developed by African slaves and white planters from the Caribbean especially from Jamaica and Barbados and it was done in subservience to Caribbean “interests.”

A handful of examples:

Crispus Attucks, the first to die in the American Revolutionary war in 1776 in Massachusetts was a West Indian. The struggle ended in the independence of the United States from England. Prince Hall, who established free masonry in the United States was a political figure in Black Boston in the 18th century and pressed the Massachusetts legislature to provide publicly-funded education to Blacks and he succeeded in getting Boston to provide schools for free children of color in 1797. Hall’s roots were in Barbados.

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican was the leader of one of the largest mass movements of the 20th century. His campaign for the dignity and honor of Blacks was a spark for the discontented across the U.S. Jan Ernest Matzeliger, the inventor from Suriname revolutionized the mass production of shoes. Eric Holder Jr., the United States Attorney-General, the first Black person to occupy that position, their origins to Barbados.

Michaella Jean was Canada’s first Black Governor-General or viceroy representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the country’s head of state. Jean is of Haitian descent. Jean who was born in Port au Prince in 1957 immigrated to Canada with her parents in 1968 and after a highly successful professional career as a radio personality in Montreal, she was appointed and installed in office as the Governor-General in 2005.

Julius A. Isaac, served in Canada’s Justice Department for 17 years before becoming the country’s first Black Chief Justice of the federal court. He was born in St. David, Grenada in 1928 and arrived in Toronto in 1951. He was 82 when he died in Regina in Ontario.

They are but a handful of the examples of West Indian influence and they illustrate how people from the Caribbean have made a substantial difference on the global stage. That’s important because as we celebrate Black History Month they help to remove the Eurocentric cloud that has obscured the contributions of people of color to human development.

Prof. Keith Sandiford, history professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba in Canada, put it well when he complained that “while white performers are idolized by the Western media, Black innovators remain curiously concealed.”

Black History Month celebrations are helping to change that.

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