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John Burdick

semi-mythical Brazilian folk saint, is placed by oral and written legends as living either in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Although officially unrecognized by the Catholic Church, in the late twentieth century she became a widely revered object of spiritual devotion throughout Brazil. The broadly disseminated graphic image of a woman of African descent, sometimes pictured with blue eyes, tortured by an iron face mask and heavy iron collar, is today regarded by millions of Brazilians as a realistic likeness of the popular saint.

In 1968 as part of an exhibit dedicated to the history of slavery the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Brotherhood of Blacks in downtown Rio de Janeiro featured an image of a female slave wearing a face mask A cluster of women who saw the image at the time concluded it ...

Article

Jemmy  

Steven J. Niven

leader of the 1739 Stono slave rebellion, was born in central Africa, most likely in the Kingdom of Kongo, now part of Angola, and brought as a slave to the British colony of South Carolina in the 1730s. A majority of the African slaves sold by the British Royal African Company to South Carolina in the early eighteenth century originated in Kongo, an independent kingdom that had converted to Christianity more than two hundred years earlier. If typical of Kongolese slaves brought to South Carolina, Jemmy would have worshipped a combination of Roman Catholicism and older African faiths and may well have had knowledge of Portuguese, or some Creolized variant of that language, which was the lingua franca of the slave trade and of the Kongo elite Jemmy s ability as a military leader and the fighting skills of his fellow rebels had probably been acquired through service in ...

Article

John Garst

“steel-driving man” and legendary hero, may have been a historic person born a slave in Mississippi, Virginia, or some other Southern state. In ballad and legend he is simply “John Henry,” but “John Henry” is a common combination of given names, so Henry may not have been his surname.

Songs about John Henry were collected as early as 1905. In 1916 the former West Virginia governor W.-A. MacCorkle confused him with John Hardy, an African American gambler and murderer who was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894 and is the subject of his own ballad. By the mid-1920s the ballad “John Henry” was being recorded commercially by Riley Puckett (1924), Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), and other white “hillbilly” performers, and shortly thereafter recordings by such African American bluesmen as Henry Thomas (1927) and Mississippi John Hurt (1928 began ...

Article

H. Zahra Caldwell

Harlem gangster, was born Ellsworth Raymond Johnson in Charleston, South Carolina. He acquired the nickname “Bumpy” as a boy when his parents discovered a small marble-sized bump on the back of his head. This bump was simply an accident of birth, but it would provide Ellsworth with the nickname by which he would be known throughout his life. Little is known of Johnson's parents or childhood; however, by the age of fifteen he had moved to Brooklyn, New York, to live with an aunt. He finished high school and at sixteen he moved to Harlem to live on his own. He was soon involved in a life of petty crime. By sixteen he could already be described as a stickup gunman and a second-story burglar.

At the age of seventeen Johnson was sent to a reformatory in Elmira NewYork This stay would serve as the beginning of nearly half ...

Article

Erin M. Fehskens

the first and foremost leader of the Windward Maroons of Jamaica, an autonomous community of self-emancipated slaves, was likely born into an Akan group in present-day Ghana. Nanny’s historicity and legendary status blend into one another. To write her biography is to oscillate self-consciously between the past and the present, between history and myth, recording Nanny’s deeds and remarking upon their lasting effects and current retellings.

Dispossessed of her homeland some time around the turn of the eighteenth century she survived the Middle Passage across the Atlantic In the legend that distinguishes Maroons from Jamaicans Nanny and her sister Sekesu arrived in Jamaica Nanny escaped into the mountains establishing the lineage of Maroons Sekesu remained a slave establishing the lineage of Jamaican non Maroons Alongside this mythical arrival in Jamaica a growing consensus among contemporary Maroon leaders argues that she arrived in Jamaica with her brother Kojo Whether he was ...

Article

Lee Cassanelli

freed slave and leader of a confederation of maroon settlements in Somalia, was born a Yao in Mozambique in the 1830s; his original name was Makanjira. Most of what we know of his life comes from oral traditions collected in the early twentieth century. He was captured by the armed raiders of Tippu Tip (the famed East African slaver), transported by sea to southern Somalia, and sold into the local plantation economy. Beaten and left to die by his owners after attempting to escape, he was rescued and restored to health by a Muslim sheikh from the coastal town of Brava (Baraawe), who gave him his first qurʾanic lessons and subsequently his freedom.

Makanjira took the name Nassib (“good fortune”) and moved to the town of Hindi, one of several dozen settlements of former slaves who had escaped from Somali plantations to seek refuge in the thick forests (gosha ...

Article

James L. Penick

thief and folk hero, was the nickname of a man of such obscure origins that his real name is in question. Most writers have believed him to be Morris Slater, but a rival candidate for the honor is an equally obscure man named Bill McCoy. But in song and story, where he has long had a place, the question is of small interest and Railroad Bill is name enough. A ballad regaling his exploits began circulating among field hands, turpentine camp workers, prisoners, and other groups from the black underclass of the Deep South several years before it first found its way into print in 1911. A version of this blues ballad was first recorded in 1924 by Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett, and Thomas A. Dorsey who sang blues under the name Railroad Bill The ballad got a second wind during the folk ...

Article

Dave Gosse

leader of a rebellion by enslaved people in Jamaica in 1831, was born in Jamaica around 1801 and was given the same name as his master, Samuel Sharpe, a prominent attorney who owned the Coopers Hill estate in the parish of St. James. Little is known of Sharpe’s life as a child or a teenager. As an adult however, he had a wife who, it is believed, lived about 7 miles away on the Content estate and with whom he visited regularly. Sharpe’s father is unknown, but it is thought that his mother survived him and was in all probability a member of the influential Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay, St. James (the same church where Sharpe served as a deacon, then known as the First Baptist Church). Sharpe also had a brother William (who was with him when he surrendered to the authorities in 1832 and ...

Article

John K. Bollard and Cecil Brown

the archetypal “bad man” of song, toast, and legend, was born Lee Shelton somewhere in Texas. Shortly after Shelton murdered William “Billy” Lyons in 1895, blues songs began to appear recounting the event, giving rise to the figure of Stagolee. Little is known about Shelton's origins and childhood except the name of his father, Nat Shelton The date of his birth is known only from his prison death certificate The elegant style of his signature in his arrest records suggests that he had some schooling Although he became the mythical Stagolee a bad mother who shot somebody just to see him die Lee Shelton was of ordinary stature Prison records describe him as being five feet seven and one half inches tall His hair and eyes are described as black his complexion as mulatto Under the column marks and scars the authorities listed the following L eft eye ...

Article

Sundiata Keita was the son of Nare Maghan, the ruler of Kangaba, a small state located on a tributary of the upper Niger River. Sundiata left Kangaba, but the reason is unknown: he may have gone into voluntary exile to avoid a jealous half-brother, or he may have been exiled by Sumanguru Kante, king of the Soso, who killed Sundiata’s father and took over his kingdom. Sundiata responded to the requests of his people to return to Kangaba to help them regain independence. He assembled a coalition of Malinke chiefdoms and in 1235 led them to victory in the Battle of Kirina. According to popular tradition, Sundiata triumphed because he was a stronger magician than his opponent. This victory marked the beginning of the Mali empire.

After defeating the Soso, Sundiata consolidated his authority among the Malinke people and established a strong centralized monarchy. According to Ibn Khaldun a ...

Article

Godfrey Muriuki

was a major Kikuyu trader and leader in Kenya. By the 1880s the Kikuyu who had migrated from Murang’a had occupied Kiambu and reached the outskirts of what is now Nairobi. The frontier was a land of opportunity. Individuals were able to acquire land from the Dorobo, or Athi, through purchase, conquest, or creating family relationships through adoption. Kiambu had rich volcanic soils, and the area was blessed with plenty of rain. Being expert agriculturalists, the Kikuyu made full use of the newly acquired virgin land to grow plenty of foodstuffs. And by coincidence, their expansion coincided with the arrival of trading parties from Mombasa on their way to the interior.

The region between the coast and the highlands was barren, or nyika. Consequently caravan parties of Arabs and Swahili could not obtain provisions until they reached Machakos and Kikuyu land For this reason the frontier of Kikuyu ...

Article

Stuart Schwartz

Maroon leader also known as Zumbi, lived much of his life in the interior of the captaincy of Pernambuco in an area that is today the Brazilian state of Alagoas. The circumstances of his birth and early life are basically unknown, but those of his later life and death have become a matter of national debate, pride, and legend. In 1978 Brazil declared 20 November to be the Dia Nacional da Consciência Negra (National Day of Black Consciousness), which in 2003 became a holiday commemorating the death of Zumbi of Palmares This date is one of the few secure facts that remain about the last leader of Palmares the largest Maroon community in Brazil His life and death like the history of Palmares itself have been shrouded in myth and controversy but both Zumbi and Palmares have become symbols of Afro Brazilian resistance to slavery and more recently of ...