Cheick Modibo Diarra – Africa’s First NASA Astrophysicist, Ex-Chairman of Microsoft Africa, and Former Malian President

Cheick Modibo Diarra was born in 1952 in Nioro du Sahel, an urban commune situated in the Kayes Region of western Mali, and he grew up in a farming community with his parents.

Early life and education

He completed his primary and secondary education in Mali before moving to Paris to pursue the study of mathematics, physics, and analytic mechanics at Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie. After completing his undergraduate course in France, he moved to Howard University, an HBCU in the United States, to complete his Masters and PhD in aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering, respectively.

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Howard University – Source: AAIHS

Starting at NASA

Following his graduation, he took up a teaching role at Howard. On one particular occasion, after finishing delivering a lesson on spatial mechanics, he headed to the canteen for his lunch and bumped into a recruiter from NASA, who initially thought Diarra was a graduate student. After some discussion, he was invited to a formal interview; this was a very exciting opportunity for Diarra, as he had always been intrigued by NASA’s work after seeing the US Moon Landing in 1969.  His interview was successful and, in July 1988, Diarra arrived at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California to begin his work.

Caltech’s JPL in Pasadena, California

He was involved in several of the significant NASA projects of the late 80s and early 90s; the Magellan Probe (1989) was launched a few months after joining the JPL. This was a pioneering expedition; its synthetic-aperture radar mapping allowed them to image the surface of Venus in 3D, which is impossible via optical frequency methods due to the complex gaseous nature of Venus’ planetary atmosphere.

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ON THIS DAY IN 1948: Windrush Generation – The First Mass Movement of Caribbean People Arrived in the UK

Windrush Landing!

It was the morning of Tuesday, the 22nd of June, 1948. The ship, MV Empire Windrush, arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex, officially carrying 492 Caribbean passengers from Kingston, Jamaica, who had made the decision to travel after having been promised a better and more prosperous life in the UK.

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Windrush on its arrival on June 22, 1948. Photograph – Hulton Getty

The Windrush, originally en route from Australia to England, docked in Kingston to collect British servicemen. The ship still had a great deal of room remaining afterwards, and so the Daily Gleaner (now more commonly known as the Jamaica Gleaner) put out a last minute advertisement to anybody who wished to buy a ticket to travel on the ship.

Jamaican Immigrants to Britain in 1948

The earliest immigrants from Jamaica, pictured here reading a newspaper on the morning of their arrival in England on June 22, 1948 in Essex, UK. Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

The cheapest tickets, which allowed travel on the troop deck, cost about £28, which would be the equivalent of about £934 today (inflation adjusted figure). With Jamaica being a part of the “Commonwealth”, the British Nationality Act of 1948 meant that all Jamaicans would have had the right to full British nationality and citizenship once they arrived in England. Despite most of the voyagers being from the island, there were others who hailed from neighbouring Caribbean countries too.

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Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner

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The Chicken Connoisseur – On The Exploitation of Black Creativity

Elijah Quashie, the 23-year-old sensation known as the Chicken Connoisseur, has created waves on the internet with his brilliant reviews of chicken shops at several different spots across London [link to his YouTube Channel]. With each episode of The Pengest Munch, Quashie visits a new shop. Before he even begins his review, he undertakes his compulsory crep check to reassure the viewers that he’s looking fresh. He then proceeds to analyse several aspects of the shop, from its pricing structure and standard of customer service, to the breadcrumbs on the wings and the assembly and presentation of its burgers. Everything he says is executed with light-hearted rigour along with a fantastic comical twist.

His take on the quality of breaded wings and fries resonated with many; rating the standard of an establishment’s food, as well as noting down which bossman will nice you with an extra wing or two, is a conversation and scenario to which many young Black Britons will relate. His channel will certainly prove to be a useful resource for future reference! Through Black Twitter, Quashie’s videos received widespread interest, praise, and acclaim.

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Elijah Quashie, The Chicken Connoisseur, tucks into a burger at Taste of Tennessee. His review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naSO2wMopoU

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10 Strongly Political Messages in The Music of Bob Marley

Bob Marley is the world’s most well-known reggae artist of all-time. Despite the deeply political, radical, and pro-Black roots of reggae music, general negative stereotypes about Rastafari and reggae have reduced Marley’s, and many other artists’, legacy to little more than being a mascot for hippies and weed-smoking culture – many readers will no doubt remember the proliferation of Snapchat’s insensitive “420 filter” of Bob Marley (a lot of which was, surprisingly enough, to do with whomever was in charge of the Marley Estate).

This post brings just 10 (there are many more!) of his particularly powerful lyrics to the table in order to remind people of the real message in Bob Marley’s music.

1. Rat Race (Album: Rastaman Vibration, 1976)

“Political voilence fill ya city, ye-ah!

Don’t involve Rasta in your say say

Rasta don’t work for no C.I.A.”

Recorded in the year of the failed attempt on his life in December, the “voilence” of which Marley speaks was prevalent and rose scarily during the late 1970s in Jamaica. The CIA saw the People’s National Party (PNP) of Jamaica, headed by Michael Manley, as a potential threat to the United States and American business ventures, as Manley embodied socialist values, and had also built strong ties with Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Via Edward Seaga of the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), the Leader of the Opposition, the CIA systematically destabilised the country, through the supply of money, drugs, and military grade weaponry, the negative effects of which still plague Jamaica today. Throughout this saga near the elections, both political parties aimed to gain a public endorsement from Bob Marley, both of which he declined. Instead, he brought them both on stage at the One Love Peace Concert in 1978 and got them all to hold hands as a call for unity. As a believer of Rastafari ideology, Marley assured people in Rat Race that he would not have his morals corrupted, or his voice co-opted, by dishonest politicians and government officials.

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Bob Marley joins hands of Michael Manley of the PNP (left) and Edward Seaga of the JLP (right) at the One Love Peace Concert held on 22nd April 1978 in Kingston, Jamaica

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The Story of Una Marson – Jamaican Writer, Feminist, and International Activist

Una Marson is one of the important names which will always come to mind when discussing influential Jamaicans in world history. From being one of the first Black women to be prominent in forums such as the League of Nations and the International Alliance for Women, to cementing her central role in bringing Caribbean literary creativity to the wider world, Marson achieved a great deal in her life, and her accomplishments had, have, and will continue to have, a lasting effect on millions worldwide of generations past, present, and future.

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Early life and education

Una Maud Victoria Marson was born in Santa Cruz in St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica, on 5th February 1905. She belonged to a middle-class family, and was the youngest of the six children of Reverend Solomon Isaac and Ada Marson.

She attended Hampton High from the age of 10, which is an all-girls boarding school situated in Malvern, a village to the south of Santa Cruz. Her father was a member of the school’s board of trustees up until his passing, which occurred in the year of his daughter’s enrolment in 1915. This left the family financially strapped; although the young Una Marson continued to board at Hampton, the untimely death of the Reverend forced the family to relocate to the capital, Kingston, in St. Andrew Parish.

The Cosmopolitan, early poetry, and the success of At What a Price

Not long after leaving Hampton, Marson did volunteer work as a stenographer, a job which was only starting to become open to Afro-Jamaican women in 1920s Kingston. Not long afterwards, she began working for the political journal, Jamaica Critic, and was appointed as the publication’s assistant editor in 1926. It was this experience she gained as editor at the Jamaica Critic that helped her to not only cultivate and hone her skills as a writer, but to also develop her social and political standpoints, all of which would prove to form the crux of her later and most notable work. This exposure to socially pertinent topics inspired Marson to start an independent publication, and, in 1928, at the tender age of 23, she became the first Jamaican woman in the country to both edit and publish her own magazine, The Cosmopolitan. With her newly found platform, Marson used The Cosmopolitan to tackle racial and social issues within Jamaica, as well as to engage with important, feminist values. She was an ardent advocate for women’s suffrage in Jamaica, as well as for the widening of opportunities in education and employment, and for the development of comprehensive self-help groups for women.

In the early 1930s, Marson released several notable pieces, such as Tropic Reveries (1930), for which she received the Musgrave Medal, and Heights and Depth (1931), both of which were a collection of short poems. What is interesting to note here is that her early work was very reflective of the British colonial education system to which she had been exposed for all of her life in Jamaica, and carried many European and Victorian themes. Leaving Jamaica to move to London for the first time in 1932 signalled a unique turning point in her life, resulting in a change in her writing style, and even her own racial consciousness.

The release of her first play, At What a Price, in 1931 was received with exceptional praise and critical acclaim, and Marson used the funds generated from its success to move to London the next year, as she had a desire to broaden her horizons by exploring the world outside of Jamaica. She arrived in London in July of 1932, and got involved with the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP), founded by the fellow Jamaican-born physician and activist, Harold Moody, whose primary focus was campaigning for the rights of Black Britons. In addition to the success of At What a Price in Jamaica, the play was also performed at the Scala Theatre in West End; with the cast being members of the LCP, it was the first all-Black cast performance staged in London.

Arrival in the UK, engagement with Black internationalism, and development of her Black feminist politics

Upon arrival in England, the racism and sexism she was subjected to on a daily basis “transformed both her life and poetry”; Marson became much more invested in Black internationalism and her feminist work was influenced greatly by the new experiences she had as a Black woman in 1930s Britain. In her poem, Nigger (1933), published in The Keys by the LCP, Marson delivers a damning critique of British racism, and also portrays the pain, humiliation, and blatant hurt she and other Black people felt after being racially abused:

“They called me “Nigger,”

Those little white urchins

They laughed and shouted

As I passed along the street

They flung it at me:

“Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!”

What made me keep my fingers

From choking the words in their throats?”

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The Story of Claudia Jones – A Pioneering Black Feminist, Political Leader, and Educator

Claudia Jones was one of the most influential Black woman thinkers and leaders of her time, whose theories and politics have shaped the world in ways most fascinating and unimaginable. The importance of her contributions to Black liberation movements, in the UK, US, and elsewhere, is extremely and severely underappreciated, and many of those without an extensive grounding in Black feminist/communist/liberation theory will have, unfortunately, never heard of her. Fortunately,thanks to the internet and social media more and more of us are becoming aware of the magnificent work of the illustrious Claudia Jones.

Early life, death of her mother, and high school

Born as Claudia Vera Cumberbatch on February 21st, 1915 in Belmont, Trinidad & Tobago, she migrated to Harlem in the US with her parents in 1924, following the crash in the price of cocoa following the First World War. Early life in America for Jones and her family was extremely difficult; the premature death of her mother five years after arriving forced her to temporarily drop out of school and take up factory work in order to help supplement her family’s low income. Due to the poor living conditions she had, she contracted tuberculosis in 1932 and, though she survived it, this terrible illness caused permanent damage to her lungs, the effects of which affected her all throughout her adult life.

Despite being an erudite high school graduate, her position as a Black, Caribbean immigrant woman in a pre-civil rights United States was evidently restricted, and she could only find employment in a launderette, and subsequently, in retail. Claudia Jones’ first hand at writing for a publication came in the form of a column, named Claudia Comments, for the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (now simply known as the National Urban League), whose drama group she was a member of.

The Scottsboro Boys, the CPUSA, and An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!

The infamous Scottsboro Boys case in 1930s Alabama caught the attention of the whole country. The Scottsboro Boys were nine Black teenagers who were falsely accused by two white women of rape during a train journey between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee. In the first case in 1931, eight of the nine teenagers were convicted and thus sentenced to death, which was the common sentence in Alabama for a Black man found guilty of raping a white woman. Jones’ determination to support the cases of these teenagers brought her into contact with the Youth Communist League USA, the youth wing of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), of which she became a member in 1936. Following huge pressure from CPUSA (as well as the NAACP and other bodies), after a protracted battle involving several retrials and an intervention from the US Supreme Court, all nine avoided execution, but five of them still unjustly served jail time.

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The nine Scotsboro Boys who were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931

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Haitian Vodou – Complex and Misunderstood

Haitian Vodou (or Voodoo, as it is often spelled in Western accounts) is no doubt one of the most interesting religions known to the world. A religion, whose roots lie firmly in ancient West African thought, has inseparable ties with the cultural heritage and history of Haiti. Vodou, as well as its practitioners, have unfortunately suffered centuries of ugly stereotyping and open persecution, caused by the widespread efforts of white, Catholic colonists to stigmatise them, as they feared the idea of Africans in Haiti getting involved with African spirituality. Due to this, many myths and misconceptions about Vodou still exist today. Yet, the intriguing truth and history of Vodou has lived on through this.

 

Vodou – A Brief History

A large number of enslaved Africans brought to Haiti in the 1700s, known as Saint-Domingue before the Declaration of Haitian Independence on 1st January, 1804 by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, were from the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa, which was located in what is now known as Benin. The word Vodou derives from the word Vodu in the eponymously named language of the Fon people of West Africa; Vodu means “god” or “spirit”. Haitian Vodou developed syncretically in the 18th century; being primarily influenced by West African Vodun (practised by the Fon and Ewe), it also grew with aspects of Yoruba and Kongo culture and beliefs, along with those of the autochthonous Taíno people of Haiti, and was also influenced by elements of European beliefs, including Roman Catholicism brought by slave owners.

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Areas known to practise West African Vodun

Practitioners of Vodou, known as Vodouisants, believe in a Supreme, unreachable God, known as Bondye, from the French bon dieu, meaning “good God”. The Lwa/Loa (from the French lois, meaning “laws”), also known as the mistè (mystères in French), are Vodou spirits, and serve as the necessary conduits between Vodouisants and Bondye. While the Lwa are not actually classed as deities, Vodouisants still serve and pray to them. As time passed, associations between Haitian figures (Bondye and the Lwa) and those of Roman Catholicism (God and saints) were made often, highlighting how many practitioners of Vodou follow a more syncretic adoption of the religion. The Lwa are divided into nations (nanchons) and families, each in charge of different aspects of life.

Examples of Lwa:

Petwo: the Petwo nation of Lwa are considered war-like. A notable Lwa is Ezili Dantor, a dark-skinned black woman modelled on a warrior of the N’Nonmiton, meaning “our mothers” in Fon, which was a female-only regiment of the army of the Kingdom of Dahomey. She is associated with the now extinct Creole pig of Haiti, one of which was sacrificed to Ezili Dantor during Bois Caïman, the famous, and arguably the most important, Vodou ceremony, which is often marked as the start of the Haitian Revolution, on August 14th, 1791, being the only successful insurrection of enslaved people leading to an independent state.

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Depiction of Ezili Dantor, whose face is distinctively scarred from battle

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