Celebrating Black World History

SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 08: A pedestrian walks by a mural of Nelson Mandela on December 8, 2013 in Soweto, South Africa. Mandela, also known as Madiba, passed away on the evening of December 5th, 2013 at his home in Houghton at the age of 95. Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years in jail for his activism against apartheid in a racially-divided South Africa.

Source Justin Sullivan/Getty

Why you should care

Because Black history is more than just history.

In the second week of our Black history series, we forget the U.S. for a minute and look at the world. There’s no way we could capture the depth and richness of the Black experience on a planetary scale, but we hope these seven stories inspire you to explore further. (Readers in the Caribbean: We’ve got you next week.)

Reporter Libby Coleman tells the story of how racism might be traced back to the life of a kid from Jamaica born in the 1700s. Also of the 18th century is Abraham Hannibal, who, paraphrasing Pushkin, was a Black African who became a Russian noble and ended up living like a French philosopher. We tell you about Brazil’s iconic soul man, singer Tim Maia, and Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor, killed by Somali terrorists in Nairobi. If you don’t know about Patrice Lumumba, whom Malcolm X called the most impressive man to ever walk the African continent, tune in to Eugene S. Robinson: “Being bold, principled and even on the right side of history will not lead your people into the promised land, nor will it make you the next George Washington, Nelson Mandela or Fidel Castro,” he says. But it might just mean you make your painfully short human life really mean something.

Meanwhile in Haiti, a widely respected human-rights lawyer, Mario Joseph, battles major evils for little personal gain. The first evil? Infamous pond scum “Baby Doc” Duvalier, a dictator allegedly responsible for thousands of torture chamber deaths. Teaser: A trial court once threw out charges against him, saying Haiti doesn’t recognize crimes against humanity. Can I get a LOL? Joseph, however, is undeterred. Oh, and he’s also taken on behemoth of good intentions the U.N., whose shoddy sanitation may have gifted Haiti with a new friend: cholera.

Speaking of dictators, Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia, not only may have broken the mold: he may in fact be made of mold. For 22 years, after taking power in — how else — a coup, Jammeh has ruled Africa’s smallest mainland country “through fear, force and what we can best describe as creepiness.” Writer Laura Secorun Palet tells us that he prefers subjects to address him by his full name — His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh. For the rest of the lowdown on Dr. Yah-Jam (sorry, Mister Dictator — that name is excessive), click here.

And then I invite you to turn your attention to a blazing light. Documentary filmmaker Xoliswa Sithole of Zimbabwe and South Africa, who says, “No matter how dark the subject matter is … I honestly, honestly believe that there’s a God in everybody.” She goes on to talk about strong women, saying no way to marriage, and the imperative to elbow one’s way through adversity. “Women have to create their spaces,” she says. Oh, and her favorite word: beautiful.

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