ACCRA, Ghana — FOR years, it seemed as though only one photograph of Nelson Mandela existed. It showed him with bushy hair, plump cheeks, and a look of serious determination. But it was a black-and-white shot, so grainy it looked ancient — a visual documentation of an era and an individual whose time had long passed.
In the early 1960s, fed up with the systematic oppression and inhumane treatment of indigenous Africans, Mandela successfully proposed a plan of violent tactics and guerrilla warfare, essentially forming the military wing of the African National Congress. Within a few years, this martial division, aptly named Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, was discovered and its leadership detained. In 1964 Mandela was found guilty of sabotage, and ordered to serve a life sentence.
During his trial, in lieu of testimony, he delivered a speech from the dock. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
I was 5 years old when Nelson Mandela became prisoner number 46664, and was banished to spend the remainder of his years on Robben Island, five square miles of land floating just north of Cape Town. Robben Island had been the site of a colony for lepers, a lunatic asylum and a series of prisons. It was a place of exile, punishment and isolation, a place where people were sent and then forgotten.
But the haunting image in that photograph did not let us forget. In the 1970s, I was a member of the African Youth Command, an activist group that protested against social and political injustices. We idolized Mandela. We hung posters of that photograph in our dormitory rooms; we printed it on pamphlets. We refused to let Mandela fade into irrelevance; we marched, held demonstrations, staged concerts and boycotts, signed petitions and issued press statements. We did everything we could to decry the evils of apartheid and keep his name on people’s tongues. We even burned effigies of John Vorster, Jimmy Kruger and other proponents of that government-sanctioned white supremacy.
Freedom on the African continent was a reality for which we were willing to fight. Nevertheless, I think we’d resigned ourselves to the likelihood that Mandela would remain a prisoner until his death, and South Africans would not experience equality until well after our lifetimes. Then on Feb. 11, 1990, the miraculous happened; Mandela was released.
The world was spellbound. We wondered what we would do if we were in his shoes. We all waited for an indescribable rage, a call for retribution that any reasonable mind would have understood. Twenty-seven years of his life, gone. Day after day of hard labor in a limestone quarry, chipping away at white rock under a bright and merciless sun — without benefit of protective eyewear — had virtually destroyed his tear ducts and, for years, robbed Mandela even of his ability to cry.
Yet, the man insisted on forgiveness. “To go to prison because of your convictions,” he said, “and be prepared to suffer for what you believe in, is something worthwhile. It is an achievement for a man to do his duty on earth irrespective of the consequences.”
By the time I finally came face to face with Nelson Mandela, he had already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and elected president of a land in which he and all other black people had previously been refused suffrage. He had become an icon, not only of hope, but also of the possibility for healing.
I was relatively new to politics then, a member of Parliament and minister of communications. It was my first time in Cape Town. I had stayed out late with friends and was waiting to take the lift up to my hotel room. When the doors opened, there was Mandela. I took a step back, and froze. As he exited, Mandela glanced in my direction and nodded. I could not return the gesture. I couldn’t move, not even to blink. I just stood there in awe, thinking: here was the man for whom we had marched, sung and wept; the man from the black-and-white photograph. Here was the man who had created a new moral compass for South Africa and, as a matter of course, the entire continent.
It is no coincidence that in the years since Mandela’s release so much of Africa has turned toward democracy and the rule of law. His utilization of peace as a vehicle of liberation showed Africa that if we were to move beyond the divisiveness caused by colonization, and the pain of our self-inflicted wounds, compassion and forgiveness must play a role in governance. Countries, like people, must acknowledge the trauma they have experienced, and they must find a way to reconcile, to make what was broken whole again.
That night, as I watched Mandela walk past me, I understood that his story, the long walk to freedom, was also Africa’s story. The indignation that once permeated our continent has been replaced by inspiration. The undercurrent of pessimism resulting from the onslaught of maladies — wars, coups, disease, poverty and oppression — has given way to a steadily increasing sense of possibility.
It wasn’t just Nelson Mandela who was transformed during those years of his imprisonment. We all were. And Africa is all the better because of that.
John Dramani Mahama is the president of Ghana and the author of the memoir “My First Coup d’État: And Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa.”
David Klocker Ehrenstrahl
Sweden (c. 1660s)
oil on canvas
122 x 145 cm.
Gripsholm Castle Collection, Sweden
One of the more frustrating things I encounter in my research is images are often photographed in a manner where the settings and light are such that light-skinned subjects show up, but dark-skinned subjects’ features are obscured with high contrast. For example, the scan or photo for this piece at the Bridgeman Art Library website is small and the central figure of the painting is barely discernible.
Another image I had to manipulate in order for the dark-skinned figure to be discernible at all.
I’ll go ahead and show you all the image from the link so you can see what I mean:
They’ve taken a better photo of the painting for the gallery’s website since you originally posted this! wow!!
They did! The image at the link for Bridgeman Art Library, which used to be the one above, is now this one:
Here are 10 photos (out of 22) from my series Racial Microaggressions. I have asked my friends on the Fordham University Lincoln Center campus to write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced on a poster for me to take a picture of them.
I’m sure somebody must have put this on tumblr already, but I haven’t seen it anywhere, so here.
1. Parks had been thrown off the bus a decade earlier by the same bus driver — for refusing to pay in the front and go around to the back to board. She had avoided that driver’s bus for twelve years because she knew well the risks of angering drivers, all of whom were white and carried guns. Her own mother had been threatened with physical violence by a bus driver, in front of Parks who was a child at the time. Parks’ neighbor had been killed for his bus stand, and teenage protester Claudette Colvin, among others, had recently been badly manhandled by the police.
2. Parks was a lifelong believer in self-defense. Malcolm X was her personal hero. Her family kept a gun in the house, including during the boycott, because of the daily terror of white violence. As a child, when pushed by a white boy, she pushed back. His mother threatened to kill her, but Parks stood her ground. Another time, she held a brick up to a white bully, daring him to follow through on his threat to hit her. He went away. When the Klu Klux Klan went on rampages through her childhood town, Pine Level, Ala., her grandfather would sit on the porch all night with his rifle. Rosa stayed awake some nights, keeping vigil with him.
3. Her husband was her political partner. Parks said Raymond was “the first real activist I ever met.” Initially she wasn’t romantically interested because Raymond was more light-skinned than she preferred, but she became impressed with his boldness and “that he refused to be intimidated by white people.” When they met he was working to free the nine Scottsboro boys and she joined these efforts after they were married. At Raymond’s urging, Parks, who had to drop out in the eleventh grade to care for her sick grandmother, returned to high school and got her diploma. Raymond’s input was crucial to Parks’ political development and their partnership sustained her political work over many decades.
4. Many of Parks’ ancestors were Native Americans (Cherokee-Creek). She noted this to a friend who was surprised when in private Parks removed her hairpins and revealed thick braids of wavy hair that fell below her waist. Her husband, she said, liked her hair long and she kept it that way for many years after his death, although she never wore it down in public. Aware of the racial politics of hair and appearance, she tucked it away in a series of braids and buns — maintaining a clear division between her public presentation and private person.
5. Parks’ arrest had grave consequences for her family’s health and economic well-being. After her arrest, Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn’t find full employment for nearly ten years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute. She developed painful stomach ulcers and a heart condition, and suffered from chronic insomnia. Raymond, unnerved by the relentless harassment and death threats, began drinking heavily and suffered two nervous breakdowns. The black press, culminating in JET magazine’s July 1960 story on “the bus boycott’s forgotten woman,” exposed the depth of Parks’ financial need, leading civil rights groups to finally provide some assistance.
6. Parks spent more than half of her life in the North. The Parks family had to leave Montgomery eight months after the boycott ended. She lived for most of that time in Detroit in the heart of the ghetto, just a mile from the epicenter of the 1967 Detroit riot. There, she spent nearly five decades organizing and protesting racial inequality in “the promised land that wasn’t.”
7. In 1965 Parks got her first paid political position, after over two decades of political work. After volunteering for Congressman John Conyers’s long shot political campaign,
Parks helped secure his primary victory by convincing Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Detroit on Conyers’s behalf. He later hired her to work with constituents as an administrative assistant in his Detroit office. For the first time since her bus stand, Parks finally had a salary, access to health insurance, and a pension — and the restoration of dignity that a formal paid position allowed.
8. Parks was far more radical than has been understood. She worked alongside the Black Power movement, particularly around issues such as reparations, black history, anti-police brutality, freedom for black political prisoners, independent black political power, and economic justice. She attended the Black Political Convention in Gary and the Black Power conference in Philadelphia. She journeyed to Lowndes County, Alabama to support the movement there, spoke at the Poor People’s Campaign, helped organize support committees on behalf of black political prisoners such as the Wilmington 10 and Imari Obadele of the Republic of New Africa, and paid a visit of support to the Black Panther school in Oakland, CA.
9. Parks was an internationalist. She was an early opponent of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, a member of The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and a supporter of the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit and the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest in D.C. In the 1980s, she protested apartheid and U.S. complicity, joining a picket outside the South African embassy and opposed U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling on the United States to work with the international community and no retaliation or war.
10. Parks was a lifelong activist and a hero to many, including Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison, he told her, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.”
Also, some gems from the comments:
Mrs.Parks was the CEO of the Rosa & Raymond Institute for Self Development she wanted to build a educational building for children, she wanted a campus, she had a dream to educate children all over the world. This is why she left all of her intellectual property, her images, and assets to the Institute, to continue her legacy. Mrs. Parks said these words in one of the 4 books that she wrote about her life. The book is a children’s book called, “Dear Mrs. Parks” children from all over the world, send her thousands of letters to the Institute, everyday asking her questions about her life,one question,She answered, and I quote, ” Many young people ask me about how a person’s legacy can affect future generations. A legacy is something that is handed down to future generations. My grandmother, mother, and grandfather all nurtured me. They taught me hope and kindness and gave me a sense of inner strength. They gave me a beautiful legacy to understand that we all count.” These are Mrs. Parks own words, check out her books, and you will know who the real Rosa Louise Parks is. I spend 15 years serving Mrs. Parks and I thank God every day, because she carried the children and me on a spiritual journey.
Also never mentioned is the fact that, for many years, Mrs. Parks was an investigator for the NAACP of white men raping Black women. She documented 112 cases; one of which occured on Sept. 3, 1944, when seven Abbeville, Alabama white males abducted and gang-raped Recy Taylor at gunpoint. Ms. Taylor’s horrorific encounter only captured national news in 2011.
Rosa Parks deserves better. She deserves to be known fully, not coopted and reduced to be a “safe” part of the version of history we get taught in school.
It’s astonishing that a we learned about her in high school was that she refused to give up a bus seat
Let’s see feminists push for female inclusion to the draft.
2. Most feminists, myself included, want to completely abolish the draft and selected service.
The idea of “women and children first” wasn’t invented by women - it was invented by men
Just another part of the patriarchy, I suppose? How dare those men try to stop us from drowning
First of all, it was never even a thing. Women and Children First was not ever a widely used practice for evacuating ships.
In fact, let’s look at some actual facts: While the phrase first appeared in the 1860 novel Harrington: A Story of True Love, by William Douglas O’Connor. [source]
As a code of conduct, “women and children first” has no basis in maritime law, and according to University of Greenwich disaster evacuation expert Professor Ed Galea, in modern-day evacuations people will usually “help the most vulnerable to leave the scene first. It’s not necessarily women, but is likely to be the injured, elderly and young children.”
Furthermore, the results of a 2012 Uppsala University study suggest that the application of “women and children first” may have, in practice, been the exception rather than the rule.
And really. Is this the best yall have? Your best example of sexism against men is a myth about women getting preferential seating in maritime disasters?
Shock of shocks, some 18 year old guy thinks kneejerk memes are somehow better than actually taking the time to do research to see if his pissy attitude is justified.
And the rest of his tumblr is just whining about women. I bet he’s a devil with the ladies.
ladies i know you couldn’t vote until like 1920 and the government still basically owns your bodies but LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT SOMETHING I LEARNED FROM THIS LEO DICAPRIO MOVIE THAT WILL FLIP THIS SHIT WIIIIDE OPEN
What is happening
Tell me your myspace posts from high school were different. Go on I dare you.
My MySpace posts were so different lol.
Mine were typical teen stupid shit. Not jaden smith levels but still hella dumb
I need the weed he smokes ASAP