There have been several posts in this blog discussing the interesting places where people of African descent reside (Our Neighbors to the North, Fleeting Glimpses, Early Black British, Seeking Home, Black Communities in Surprising Places). This post focuses on Afro-Turks. The geographic size and the duration of the Ottoman Empire, starting in the 13th century until just after WWI, meant that it had dominion over many people in many places. As various dynasties took control of the empire, many of the subjugated from the 14th century on were enslaved; Ottomans were also involved in the slave trade in Africa, particularly in the late 19th century.

The history site, Ottoman History Podcasts (researched and produced by graduate students at Georgetown University), has two interesting podcasts on various aspects of the history of Afro-Turks. The first is African Diaspora in Ottoman Izmir and the second is Narratives of Slavery in Late Ottoman Egypt. These two podcasts are excellent interviews and discussions of the history, politics, and practice of enslaving people with dark skin and how this played out in the Ottoman and Republic times and the repercussions today.

The National, the official newspaper of United Arab Emirates (UAE), has a very detailed and in-depth article on Afro-Turks and notes that over 10,000 Africans were brought annually into the Ottoman Empire for most of the 19th century. People were employed in a wide variety of domestic jobs, a few on farms. It is estimated the the number of descendants of these people is 10-20,000 but no one knows the accuracy of those numbers.

The BBC is another source of information. They produced a documentary called The Turks Who Lost Their Language, also about Afro-Turks of Izmir.

Ahmet Ali Çelikten 1883-1969
Two examples of 20th century Afro-Turks who have had notable careers and firsts are listed here. Ahmet Ali Çelikten, whose mother was enslaved in Bornu (Nigeria) and brought to Istanbul, was one of the few pilots of African descent from various countries to fly military planes in WWI.

Saìt Sökmen (1942-) is a choreographer, dancer, instructor, and talent agent. His history is not that of enslavement but of a Turkish father (merchant) living in Conakry, Guinea marrying a local woman. They moved to Iskenderun when violence flared in Guinea in the 1950s.

All the links above take the reader to really interesting articles containing a wealth of information about a group of people who deserve to be better known.


Giving Thanks for Much Good News

The season of giving thanks is a great opportunity learn about the work of those whose hard work, imagination, being organized, and higher order thinking skills have created paths that are interesting to follow.

The newest batch of Rhodes Scholars, 32 from the United States, include the largest number of African American scholars chosen in one year: ten. These scholars represent a large swath of the country. Currently, the most well known of these is Cadet Simone Askew of Fairfax Co, Virginia, the first black woman to serve as Captain of the 4,400 member Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy: the highest position in the cadet chain-of-command at West Point.

At the Coles' home, Kiawah Island, S.C. NYT photo
These executives, clockwise from left, Robyn and Tony Coles, Charles and Karen Phillips, and Marva Smalls, have formed a PAC (a political action committee) to work on issues they had been informally working on: education, employment, and voting rights.  Be sure to peruse all the above links: these executives, and others mentioned in the NYT article, realized that just donating money to good causes was not going to be sufficient, they were going to have to organize, lobby, and exert political influence.

Three (of many!) works of non-fiction are worth reading. They are: The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan by Gisli Palsson. The subject of this very interesting story lived from1784 to 1827 and his story takes place in various parts of Scandinavia. The Color of Money, Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap by Mehrsa Baradan and The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein both explore and explain the historical underpinnings of what is so observable today: the effects of red-lining, the effects of circumscribing economic growth, the long-term effects of racial exclusion.

Jesmyn Ward

This year, 2017, Jesmyn Ward won her second National Book Award for her new novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her first book for which she won the National Book Award, Salvage the Bones (2011) explores Hurricane Katrina. Ward is a recipient of the MacArthur Fellow or "Genius Award" and associate professor of Literature at Tulane University.

Marvel Comics has a series, Black Panther, which has been made into a movie.  According to journalist Michael Harriot of The Root, the release of the movie posters is causing heart palpitations amongst nerds in the black community! Better check them out!

Tokini Peterside

In the art world, international art fairs are big business, status symbols, and venues to showcase up-and-coming artists as well as those with established careers. Art X Lagos recently opened its second edition to great applause and accolades. An interview conducted by The Guardian with the Art X Lagos director, Nigerian Tokini Peterside, examines just how far, and fast, this art fair has come.


Monuments to Non-Conformity

Barbara Hillary 1931-
Monuments come in all shapes, sizes, materials, relative importance. There are monumental figures who have shaped history, for example: President Barack Obama, Ms. Rosa Parks, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, the Honorable Thurgood Marshall, Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, Ms. Barbara Hillary, and many, many more esteemed individuals HERE. Then there are those who live large, in defiance of stereotypes and being pigeon-holed. They are monuments to the power and strength of the individual and group.

Starting in 2004, there has been an annual Afro-Punk Festival in New York. Some looks from the 2012 Festival can be found HERE. For some looks at the 2017 Afro-Punk Festival, look HERE.
Cordell Louis at Afro-Punk.Photo:Deidre Schoo NYT
In addition to this festival, there is an annual Everyday People dance festival in many locations around the country. HERE is as link to the 2017 daytime dance party in New York. This festival is a celebration of the African diaspora in all its differences, similarities, varieties.

Michael Twitty has been on a mission of Culinary Justice. As a black, gay, Jewish food historian and chef he is bringing awareness of the African roots of Southern cooking and its importance in the history of America. He is concerned that this history/knowledge is being buried and lost. He is currently on a book and lecture/cooking demonstration tour, hoping to engage people in thoughtful conversation.

Michael Twitty
There is a Federation of Black Cowboys: this link is to the New York Chapter. Most people are unaware that in the heyday of cowboys, 25% were black and played a very important role in shaping the West. THIS link takes you to several sub-topics on this subject at A history of black cowboys can be read HERE. An essay in The New Yorker magazine on modern cowboys, including black cowgirls, can be found HERE.

And finally, no commentary on living large is complete without the mention of fashion super star André Leon Talley. Mr. Talley has established himself as a style consultant and taste maker and "maven" of the fashion world. All the people and groups mentioned here are monuments to style, culture, non-conformity, and to celebrating life.


Our Neighbors to the North

The history of black people in Canada goes back to, and is intertwined with, French and British settler/trader history in both what became Canada and what became United States. An excellent timeline can be found HERE and HERE, covering 1600-the present and divided into four time periods.

William Hall 1857 receives Victoria Cross
The first named black person arrived in Canada in 1605: Mathieu da Costa was a freeman who was hired as a translator for Samuel de Champlain. The American Revolution (blacks who supported the English left as the political winds blew against that side) and slavery/The Civil War in the United States were both instigators for free and enslaved blacks to find their way to Canada. While many black people in Canada had also arrived enslaved, because Canada had remained part of Britain and France longer than the US had, the laws of abolition enacted in France and Britain earlier encouraged blacks in the US to go north.

The history of Black Canada is a rich one. Early on, blacks were involved in sports, the military, politics, and medicine.  But like the history of blacks in United States, times have not been easy. There are issues of injustice and inequality.  Through all of this, people make art, are successful, work on changing the situations and the narratives. More images of black Canadians can be found HERE (with some black
Jennifer Hodge de Silva 1951-1989 filmmaker
Americans also included!).

Black Canadians in older, established neighborhoods in various cities are facing issues of gentrification and of having their histories erased or made invisible. In July-Aug 2017, there is a 30 minute documentary at the Vancouver Art Gallery showing three Vancouver black women being interviewed about how the black community in Vancouver, BC is being rendered invisible. It is well worth seeing.

Black Canadians in Queens Park 1920 with Ontario Premier


Summer Projects....for You!

Summer is a great time to catch up on reading; to learn about people and places not necessarily in the headlines, but worth knowing; to share stories and information with friends and family. This blog has, in the past, posted on travel to heritage beaches, to National Park Sites of historic interest, travel through books and reading, travel with historic themes. These can be accessed by clicking on the Blog Archive listed in the column to the right of this page. Below is a mere sample of places and people to visit with this summer. Make your own suggestions and explorations in the comment section of this blog post!

Rhiannon Giddens

Blogs/websites to check out:
The Walking Ghosts of Black History
Black Media Mine
field negro
Black Science Fiction Society
Official Black German Society
The Black Presence in Britain

Abdulrazak Gurnah

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Gravel Heart by Abdulrazak Gurnah
The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States 2017
Angel Gardner, Youth Poet Laureate Seattle 2016
Francis Kéré, Architect  In the news.
Rhiannon Giddens, musician (Freedom Highway, original music based on narratives of the enslaved). Check out this fabulous interview on NPR with this MacArthur Genius recipient!

Cultural News from Black Britain

David Olusoga (photo Des Willie BBC)
 This spring brings interesting news about Black Britons in the the arts and culture arenas: in television, movies, and books. David Olusoga, producer, documentarian, and presenter, created a BBC series "Black and British: A Forgotten History" and an accompanying book, reviewed here. His interests and concerns grew out of his personal experience growing up as an immigrant in Britain and realizing, with growing frustration, how little of the history of Black Britons was visible, going all the way back to Roman times (please note, this blog presented a small feature on an aspect of this topic here).

Naomi Ackie as Lady Macbeth

A similar concern about limited acting opportunities in period dramas or film productions has pushed actors, producers, and directors to investigate the presence of people of color as part of British history. The most recent example of this is the casting of Naomi Ackie as Lady Macbeth in Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, a play by Nikolai Leskov. Producer William Oldroyd set the play in Northumberland in the 1860's. Oldroyd's research revealed that, in poring over old photographs from northeast England, there were not only many working class black families, but also aspiring middle class black people as well.

Reni Eddo-Lodge

If you have not yet read or heard of Reni Eddo-Lodge, you are in for a treat. Her blog post/book/this essay, Why I'm No Longer Talk to White People About Racism, puts the responsibility, the onus, the issue/problem squarely on the shoulders of white people. Her discussion of feminism, structural racism (an interesting distinction from institutional racism) is important, instructive, and a burden to be shouldered by white people.


The Florida Highwaymen

by Robert Lewis b.1941
Artists need support from art infrastructure such as galleries, museums, agents to succeed beyond their studios. This infrastructure was in short supply (read: none) for African American artists in the 1950's and 1960's. A group of artists in Florida realised that, in order to get anywhere, they would need to get beyond the middlemen and market their own work.

Alfred Hair 1941-1970
The artist Alfred Hair was the catalyst behind the nine artists who were the founding core of The Highwaymen. The group later expanded to twenty-six artists who are considered The Highwaymen or The Florida Highwaymen (there was only one woman in the group). After Hair was killed in 1970, the group slowed down substantially and their "brand" became less visible, until their rediscovery in the 1990's by Florida journalist Jeff Klinkenberg and Florida art historian Jim Fitch. The group was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004.

Mary Ann Carroll b.1940
The lone woman in the group, Mary Ann Carroll, was a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama on May 8, 2011 at the The First Lady's Luncheon. Ms. Carroll presented First Lady Obama with a painting of a poinciana tree.

There have been two PBS documentaries on The Highwaymen, one produced in 2003, The Highwaymen: Florida's Outsider Artists; the second, The Highwaymen: Legends of the Road,in 2008. A new film, The Unknowns: Talent is Colorblind, is due to be released in 2017. In 2012, NPR did a series of features and interviews of several of the Highwaymen and those can be listened to here. Gary Monroe has written what is considered the definitive book on The Highwaymen, The Highwaymen: Florida's African American Landscape Painters.  The Highwaymen's works of art, of which there are over 200,00 pieces, are highly sought after and can now be found in galleries and at auctions.


Intellectual Giants, Race Relations, & International Relations

A book was published in 2015 called White World Order, Black World Power by Robert Vitalis. Professor Vitalis accidentally happened upon some information that ultimately caused him to write this book (find a review of this book in the London Review of Books here and one in Black Perspectives in AAIHS  here). The names W.E.B. duBois, Alain Locke, Ralph Bunche, Rayford Logan, and (to a much lesser extent) Merze Tate are known as giants in academia and were the foundation for what Vitalis calls the Howard School (as in a particular school of thought and
Merze Tate at Oxford 1935
philosophy). What had been lost to history was the extraordinary role these thinkers/scholars played in the formation of the field of International Relations and therefore the foundation of US foreign policy. While they were brushed aside as the field developed, their research, interests, and publications in race relations and "race development" were a challenge to their white contemporaries.

The issues of segregation, racial equality, colonialism, imperialism, paternalism, isolationism, "social and cultural Darwinism", and international racial parity all played a role in both domestic and international policy. These academics and thinkers forced their white counterparts (not necessarily successfully) to consider where they stood on various combinations of the above "isms" and Vitalis demonstrates how the white academics and thinkers moved from and through various positions as they were forced to acknowledge (some of) the ideas of the black thinkers. What is very clear is the racist underpinnings of US foreign policy and how this grew out of the history of slavery, colonialism, and the mercantilism of resource development.


The Sport of Kings and a Select Few African Americans

Thoroughbred horse breeding and racing in its modern form has a long history dating back to 17th century England and is inextricably linked with American history. Thoroughbred racing developed in all the British Colonies, Europe, Argentina, Japan. All modern Thoroughbred stallions can trace their lineage to three horses brought to England from the Middle East. Thoroughbred mares are traced back to Northern Europe and the Middle East.

Oliver Lewis 1856-1924
So, how are African Americans involved in this illustrious history? Maryland and Virginia were the centers of thoroughbred breeding in the American Colonies, as well as South Carolina and New York. Horse racing in New York goes back to 1665. After the American Revolution, Kentucky and Tennessee became the centers of activity. Except for New York, all the other states were slave-holding states. Enslaved Africans and their descendants were central to the business of thoroughbred horse breeding and then later in the racing industry as well. Enslaved workers were skilled riders, grooms, and trainers on the plantations. As a result, they were dominant as jockeys: in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, thirteen of the fifteen jockeys were black and the race was won by black jockey Oliver Lewis riding Aristides, the horse trained by former enslaved Ansel Williamson. African American jockeys won 15 out of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. Two years after Oliver, the race was claimed by seventeen year-old William WalkerIsaac Murphy, the son of a formerly enslaved man, is considered the greatest American jockey in history. Murphy rode 628 winners of his 1412 mounts. He won the Kentucky Derby three times, the American Derby four, and the Latonia Derby five times. Four more black jockeys would win fame at the Kentucky Derby: Alonzo "Lonnie" Clayton (at 15, the youngest to ever win), James "Soup" Perkins, Willie Simms, and Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield. Winkfield would be the last African American to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Murphy, Simms, and Winkfield have been inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Isaac Burns Murphy 1861-1896

This dominance of black jockeys in thoroughbred racing did not last. By 1921, there were no blacks racing at all. The rising tide of institutional racism, cemented by Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896, the demands by white jockeys in New York to eliminate black jockeys from the circuit, and the rise of Jim Crow meant that by 1904, virtually no black jockeys were racing. Many black jockeys left the American circuits to race in Europe (particularly Germany, France, and Poland) and Russia. The history of blacks in thoroughbred racing seemed to come to an end. As time went on, with the connection to the past broken, blacks were rare in any segment of the racing industry, with Latino jockeys taking precedent.

At the 139th Kentucky Derby in 2013, St. Croix native Kevin Krigger was the second black jockey to race in 92 years. The first had been Marlon St, Julien in 2000. On Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday January, 2017, there was a rare occurrence: the winner of the feature race at Aqueduct in Queens, New York, was Green Gatto owned by brothers Gaston (trainer) and Anthony Grant, ridden by jockey Kendrick Carmouche, with the placing judge who presented the trophy being Sentell Taylor, Jr: all of these men are black. Whether this is a harbinger of a greater involvement of African Americans in the sport remains to be seen.

Happy New Year 2017!

This past year, 2016, was a year of learning and growth. This blog covered a wide variety of topics, which I hope readers found interesting and spurred them to do further research. The topics showcased African Americans enriching the history, culture, and civics of our nation. Links to the posts of 2016 are listed below. If you missed any, please check them out! And, as always, check out for new additions to the website.

Photos, Books, Food, Drink: Legacies and Sustenance for the Soul
Interconnectedness: Artists in our Midst
Memorial Day:A History of Honor and Service by Black Troops
The Postal Service, Philately, & African Americans
Interesting News (you may have missed) from Summer 2016
Cutting Edge: Politics and Art
Two Stories to Reflect Upon as 2016 Comes to a Close

Comments, suggestions, ideas are always welcome.