By Kitty J. Pope
The rich history and cultural heritage of people of African descent is a story of uniqueness and resilience. Black people have made important contributions in virtually all fields, and their descendants have been proud to share their knowledge of these contributions. But all people who share this knowledge to ensure that black history and cultural heritage will be acknowledged and preserved are not black themselves. Some champions in this field are white leaders who understood that the influences and contributions of people of African descent are a part of history in general. These leaders have made in-roads on educating and bringing awareness about black history and cultural heritage to the public through various means that include teaching, research, seminars, events, museums, exhibits, media and the preservation of historic sites and information.
One such leader who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the most knowledgeable black person about black history is Dr. Joel Freeman. The president of the Freeman Institute, Dr. Freeman presents seminars and speaks all over the world on various topics related to leadership, team work, success principles and yes, Black History. An accomplished author, he has over three decades of research on Black History and a collection of over 3,000 authentic black cultural heritage documents and artifacts under his belt. Having traveled to over 50 countries, he has researched, identified and verified important information about Black History in what he calls “A White Man’s Journey in Black History,” on which he has created a two-hour DVD.
Dr. Freeman is also the co-author of Return to Glory: The Powerful Stirring of the Black Man, a book that exposes racist distortions of African achievements, analyzes examples of African American success stories and offers a process for individual healing and cross-cultural understanding. Yet there are still sceptics of his work on Black History because he is white. Some believe that his race disqualifies him from being an expert in the field. Dr. Freeman says, “There will always be criticism and misunderstanding…but overall, people have been very patient and kind…and intrigued by my passion.” Despite his extensive research, collections and documentations, Dr. Freeman explains that he does not consider himself an expert, and that he is limited by his own life’s experiences as a white Canadian. He firmly believes that Black History is a wonderful gateway to greater understanding and mutual respect.
In a similar manner, when Dr. Mark Naison, a professor of African-American Studies and History began teaching Black studies at New York’s Fordham University in 1970, he encountered rejection from a group of Black Nationalist students who had a problem with a Jewish guy from the Bronx teaching in this field. The author of three books and over 100 articles on African-American History, urban history, and the history of sports, he is also the Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. Once dubbed the “Notorious Ph.D”, Dr. Naison has used rap music to teach history. Even though he is sensitive to people’s perceptions of him as a white instructor teaching black studies, he won’t back down to naysayers who believe that he is unable to effectively teach black studies because he is not black.
Dr. Naison started the Bronx African-American History Project in 2002 in collaboration with the Bronx Historical Society where he has conducted over one hundred and fifty interviews with African-American professionals, community activists, business leaders and musicians who grew up in Bronx between the 1930’s and the 1980’s. He has appeared on the O’Reilly Factor, the Discovery Channel’s Greatest American Competition (as Dr. King’s advocate), and on comedian Dave Chappell Show, where he flaunted his knowledge of black history. Currently, he is an education activist who founded the “Badass” Teachers Association, a group that is growing by leaps and bounds and has attracted more than 40,000 members on Facebook with chapters in all 50 states. He says that his mission as an education activist is to reduce or eliminate the high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation policies that he believes drain creativity, fun, and authentic teaching and learning out of the classrooms.
Another white leader in black history and cultural heritage is New Orleans prominent businessman and former attorney John Cummings. who spent more than 15 years and over $8 million of his own money to turn the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana into a museum to pay homage to all African slaves. The plantation has been restored and an exhibit on the North American slave trade has been added along with a visitor’s center. The history of the plantation remains intact with seven cabins that once served as homes for the enslaved Black people still standing along a dusty path.
Cummings felt compelled to do the slavery museum when he started to see slavery and the hangover from slavery everywhere I looked according to an article in The New York Times. “If ‘guilt’ is the best word to use, then yes, I feel guilt. I mean you start understanding that the wealth of this part of the world – wealth that has benefited me – was created by some half a million black people who just passed us by. How is it that we don’t acknowledge this?,” says Cummings, who hopes that the Whitney Plantation Slavery Museum can help to begin a dialog for racial healing.
Other leaders who are not of African descent have also used their professions in different ways to help embrace diversity in order to create an understanding of multiculturalism, foster racial harmony and to promote peace.
Following is a list of 20 white leaders from around the globe who have contributed significantly to Black history and cultural heritage:
1)David Allen – The late Minister of Tourism for Bermuda, Allen reignited the fire to preserve, develop and promote black cultural and heritage trails around the world when he initiated the African Diaspora Heritage Trails Conference in 2001 that took place in Bermuda where governmental and private sector level officials from many countries in Africa, the Caribbean, North America and Europe attended. Allen was instrumental in developing the Bermuda African Diaspora Heritage Trail that includes many historic sites related to the Trans-African Slave trade. The Bermuda Tourism department has set up the David Allen Internship Program in honor of the work that Allen contributed to cultural heritage and A memorial plaque was also erected on the island in his honor. (adht.bm)
2)Dr. Andy Ambrose, The Executive Director of the (Harriett) Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Georgia, the largest museum in the Southeast dedicated to the art, history and culture of African Americans, Dr. Ambrose brings over 20 years of museum, academic, public history, research and teaching experience.Dr. Ambrose oversaw the opening of the grand opening of a new beautiful new 49,000 square-foot museum, moving from the 8,000 square-foot museum that could not hold all that the museum had to offer. Ambrose says he is determined to make sure the Tubman is not elitist and that it will bring in the people from every neighborhood on a regular basis. Working to make the Tubman Museum a major tourist attraction across Georgia and across the southeast region, he anticipates bringing in visitors from all around the country and beyond! Prior to this appointment, Dr. Ambrose was employed for 14 years at the Atlanta History Center, where he served as Deputy Director, Chief Operating Officer. (Tubmanmuseum.com)
3)Linda Antognini – A middle-classed woman whose passion as an artist was painting scenic pictures, Antoginni had no idea that her major art project would be related to the legacy of the late gangster rap legend Tupac Shakur. Through a vision inspired by some personal events that transformed her life, she found her artistic calling. She now blends Tupac’s music and his passion with her experiences as an artist and mystic to bring forward his message through oil and canvas painting. In other words she paints his music. Her art work reflects her connection to each song that she designs with the emotion on the subject. Antognini is on an artistic journey of creating a series of painting inspired and interpreted from the powerful music of the late legendary of Tupac Amaru Shakur. Some of the songs that she has painted from include: ”Dear Momma,” “Brenda’s Got A Baby”She aspires to create at least 100 individual works of art, releasing them ten at a time over the next several years. Linda, who has been featured in several media outlets, is actively engaging various communities to help move forward Tupac’s commitment to social justice. (ProjectTupac.com)
4)Sean Barlow is the creator and producer of public radio’s Afropop Worldwide, the first nationally syndicated series in the US media to introduce the American public to the music and culture of contemporary Africa and the African Diaspora. Afropop Worldwide is distributed by Public Radio International to over 110 stations in the U.S. and by XM satellite radio. Sean and The Afropop team also produce the acclaimed afropop.org website, a weekly e-Newsletter, the Annual Afropop Hall of Fame Awards ceremony and an embryonic film series. Afropop Worldwide is an internationally syndicated weekly radio series, online guide to African and world music, and an international music archive, that has introduced American listeners to the music cultures of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean since 1988. “Afropop” is also now used as a general term to describe popular African music. Sean Barlow is a recipient of the Peabody Institutional Award recipient. (afropop.org)
5)Mira Bergman – When serving as executive director of the African Travel Association (ATA) for more than 16 years, the late Bergman made many inroads on travel to Africa. She not only inspired people to visit and explore, but she also helped to promote positive perceptions about Africa. She was also an avid supporter of and enhanced transportation to, from and throughout Africa. As executive director of ATA, she was committed to increasing tourism and investment to the continent in a sustainable and meaningful way. The founder and president of The Bradford Group, Bergman once served as President of SATH (Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped), Executive Director of North American Travel Association and as director of The National Council of Women of the USA. She also served on the Executive Committee of the Celebrity Gala Ball to benefit the United Negro College Fund. A woman of courage and tenacity, Bergman escaped the Holocaust with her mother and sister to begin a new life in New York City in the 1940’s. (AfricanTravelAssociation.com)
6)John Cummings, (USA) is a former trial lawyer who spent millions on artifacts, research and restoration to turn New Orleans’s Whitney Plantation into a slavery museum to memorialize victims of the slave He’s been working to create the slavery museum since the 1990s, when he bought the 1,700-acre property from a petrochemical firm. He commissioned stark artwork, including realistic statues of slave children. The museum includes busts of beheaded slaves mounted on posts, as they were after a 19th century slave revolt. Cummings hopes the museum will help to the dialogue again as if it was 1865. Inspired to turn the Whitney into a slavery museum after reading the slave narratives collected by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, Cummings says Americans have a hard time talking honestly about the legacy of slavery. He says, “If we can demonstrate that there is a hangover from slavery, they will then understand exactly what happened, and what obligation we [have] as a nation. But as a nation, what is it that we can do to right some of the wrongs?” (Whitneyplantation.com)
7)Louis D’Amore – The founder and president of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT), D’Amore continues his message of peace and embracing cultural diversity around the world. He has been instrumental in promoting the travel and tourism industry as the world’s first “Global Peace Industry.” Since its founding in 1986, IIPT has brought together global leaders from all sectors of the travel and tourism industry, as well as the areas of culture, environment and development. In particular, D’Amore has held IIPT conferences regarding Africa to help develop a more balanced and positive images of the land, culture and people of the continent. IIPT has made recommendations on stimulating development to create employment, generating local incomes through niche markets based on community tourism, cultural tourism eco-tourism, agri-tourism, and volunteer tourism. D’Amore has also supported the African Diaspora Heritage Trails Conferences before and after inception. He has also supported African Diaspora Tourism and serves as an honorary chair for the African Diaspora World Tourism Awards. ( IIPT.org)
8)Dr. David Fleming Since his becoming the Director of National Museums Liverpool in 2001, Dr. Fleming has supervised the completion of several major capital projects, including the opening of the International Slavery Museum in 2007 which welcomed its millionth visitor by 2010. It is the only museum of its kind to look at aspects of historical and contemporary slavery as well as being an international hub for resources on human rights Since he became Director of National Museums Liverpool audiences have quadrupled, rising from around 700,000 per year to more than 3.2 million. Past president of the UK Museums Association, he is also Founding President of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums and founding President of the Social Justice Alliance for Museums. Dr. Fleming’s vision for the new International Slavery Museum is to promote the understanding of transatlantic slavery and its enduring impact, and to address ignorance and misunderstanding by looking at the deep and permanent impact of slavery and the slave trade on Africa, South America, the USA, the Caribbean and Western Europe. (liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism)
9)Dr. Joel Freeman- The president of the Freeman Institute, Dr. Freeman presents seminars and speaks all over the world on various topics related to leadership, team work, success principles and Black Also an accomplished author and a foremost authority on Black History, he has over three decades of research on Black History, a collection of over 3,000 authentic black cultural heritage documents and artifacts under his belt.. Having traveled to over 50 countries, he has researched, identified and verified important information about Black History in what he calls “A White Man’s Journey in Black History,” on which he has created a two-hour DVD. The film has now been translated (subtitles) into French, Portuguese and Spanish, with subtitles in English (for hearing impaired). He is also the co-author of Return to Glory, a book that exposes racist distortions of African achievements, analyzes examples of African American success stories and offers a process for individual healing and cross-cultural understanding. (FreemanInstitute.com/wmjstory.htm)
10)Minister Derek Hanekom– When first taking office, South Africa Tourism Minister Hanekom called on all South Africans to visit the sites and attractions associated with the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela around the country. To make it as easy as possible for South Africans to visit Mandela sites and attractions, he led his administration in developing an interactive map of Mandela-inspired tourist attractions, which can be accessed via mandela.southafrica.net Hanekom served as Minister of Science and Technology. He was also a National Executive Committee Member of African National Congress (ANC), where he provided the ANC with information about the apartheid defense force’s attempts to overthrow the Mozambican government that led to his arrest in 1983. Initially charged with High Treason, his case was subsequently reduced to lesser charges but still eventually landed both Hanekom and his wife with a prison term along with Nelson Mandela. After their release, the couple spent the following three years in exile in Zimbabwe.Hanekom returned to South Africa after the unbanning of political organizations in 1990, and continued working with ANC at the headquarters. He was responsible for policy formulation on land and agricultural matters with ANC during the period of negotiations prior to the first democratic elections in 1994. Hanekom later served in the Mandela administration as Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs. building South Africa as a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic nation. (tourism.gov.za)
11)Tom Houck – The former family driver and personal assistant of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Houck worked for justice and equality during and after the Civil Rights Movement. From 1965 until 1971, Houck worked with groups like the NAACP, SCLC and Voter Education Project (VEP) in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Washington DC, New York and Chicago. During his career as a public servant, Houck was arrested many times while participating in non-violent civil disobedient demonstrations to secure civil and voting rights for all Americans. The founder and operator of the Atlanta Civil Rights Tour, Houck conducts a tour to the various sites where history was made by Atlanta’s Civil Rights Heroes where, because of first hand involvement with Civil Rights, he is able to shed little known facts about the movement, leaders and the sites. (Civilrightstour.com)
12)Peter H. Michael- As the founder and publisher of ‘Underground Railroad Free Press’, the nation’s highest circulation Underground Railroad news publication, Michael’s work serves to promote, preserve and advance knowledge about Underground Railroad communities. Through its web-based Lynx and Datebook services,Free Pressserves as nexus of the international Underground Railroad He is also the author of An American Family of the Underground Railroad, a history of his family’s involvement as Underground Railroad safe-house operators. The founder of the annually awarded Free Press Prizes for leadership, Michael is also a co-founder and officer of Friends of the Underground Railroad, an international organization which promotes the memory of the Underground Railroad and the preservation of remaining Underground Railroad safe-houses and routes. (URRfreepress.com)
13)Dr. Mark Naison – A Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program Dr. Naison is the author of three books and over 100 articles on African-American History, urban history, and the history of sports. He is also co-director of the Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP) that was launched collaboratively with the Bronx Historical Society in the fall of 2002. BAAHP has conducted over one hundred and fifty interviews with African-American professionals, community activists, business leaders and musicians who grew up in Bronx between the 1930’s and the 1980’s. Dr. Naison is also the co-founder of Badass Teachers Association, an education activist group that has attracted more than 40,000 members on Facebook is growing by leaps and bounds, in no small measure because of its brassy title. With chapters in all 50 states, its mission is to reduce or eliminate the high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation policies that, organizers say, are draining creativity, fun, and authentic teaching and learning out of classrooms. Dr. Naison has appeared on the O’Reilly Factor, the Discovery Channel’s Greatest American Competition (as Dr King’s advocate) and on the Dave Chappell Show.(legacy.fordham.edu)
14)Dr. Joseph Opala – The historian who documented the “Gullah Connection,” the historical link between the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, and the West African nation of Sierra Leone, Dr. Opala has done extended research on Bunce Island, the British slave castle that sent thousands of African captives from Sierra Leone to South Carolina and Georgia in the mid- and late 1700s. He is one of the first scholars to argue that Sierra Leone’s Bunce Island has unique importance for African Americans. Opala has lead a project to restore the slave relics on Bunce Island for public viewing. He has traveled back and forth between Sierra Leone and the Gullah region for almost 25 years, conducting research and looking for meaningful ways to bring Sierra Leoneans and Gullahs back together to explore the many common elements in their history, language, and culture. In 2012, Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma awarded Opala the Order of the Rokel, that country’s version of the British knighthood, and Sierra Leone citizenship for Opala the following year Penn Center the oldest Gullah community organization in the United States, in 2013 inducted Opala into its prestigious “1862 Circle” for his work in cultural preservation. (Bunce-island.org)
15)Dr. Fran Osseo-Asare – Dubbed the “Godmother of African Food Blogging” in an article in Arise Magazine in 2012, Dr. Osseo-Asare was probably the first African food podcast person invited to be a TED Fellow in 2005, representing African food at the first TED conference held in Tanzania). She is the author of The Ghana Cookbook(with collaborator Barbara Baeta) that explores the flavors, ingredients and techniques most common in Ghana cooking to help awaken audiences to the untapped potential of Ghanaian cuisines. After her research, Dr. Osseo-Asare wrote an entry representing sub-Saharan Africa to be featured in the landmark Oxford University’s Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. She was invited to sit in on dissertation defenses for a West African student researching the fast food industry in Ghana Wageningen University in the Netherlands) , and a South African student researching traditional Basotho breads (at the University of Pretoria.). She has also presented several cultural immersion experiences for corporate and nonprofit organizations, and once taught a class on Sub-Saharan African food and culture at Penn State University, which was one of the first such courses. She has served as a mentor for a number of young African and African-American women scholars researching cuisine and culture in West Africa. She launched the website Betumi that focuses on the culinary heritage of West Africa. Betumi has continuously connected scholars, professionals and African cuisine enthusiasts. Dr. Osseo-Asare is currently exploring the establishment of African culinary institutes and/or West African cooking classes in Ghana. (betumi.com)
16)Giles Peppiatt– An international African art broker, Peppiatt is a London-based art specialist who has created an international market for Contemporary African art. He holds the only specialist auctions of modern and contemporary African art outside of Africa. Peppiatt believes that there is a new ‘Scramble for Africa,” no longer for just land, gold or diamonds, but for art. He says that the scramble for art is bringing hope to communities in many of its 54 nations making art a viable occupation for artists across Africa. It has been our very great privilege to play a small part in taking the message of African ingenuity to the wider art market internationally.” Giles established the ‘The South African Sale’ in 2007 at Bonhams, a company which holds world records for all major African artists. Currently the leader in the market, these sales now turn over a greater value of artwork than is sold in all of South Africa, and have established London as the center for the South African Art market. Continuing with his work with African art, Giles presented the first London sale of Contemporary African Art, ‘Africa Now’, in April 2009 was critically acclaimed and brought this hitherto unknown but vibrant market to the attention of many collectors. (Bonhams.com)
17) Dr. Paul Rhodes, MD – An Associate Professor of Medicine, Dr. Rhodes visited Jamaica for the first time in 1974 and fell in love with Port Antonio, her rugged landscape and her delightful people. He returned as often as he could, and in 2001 he acquired land and designed and build what has become known as “Great Huts: Paradise on the Edge.” His passion for Jamaican and African art meant this cliffside Shangri-La would have the very best of art and design. Perhaps the only such living memorial in the Diaspora to the history and achievements of ancestral African civilizations, Great Huts is also a memorial to the millions kidnapped from their mother continent and enslaved in the Caribbean and America. An eco-resort, the one-of-a-kind inn seeks to replicate a peaceful, harmonious West African village where our guests can find comfort, tranquility and inspiration. By keeping pathways unpaved, using stone, mud bricks, bamboo and thatch construction, decorating with painted African geometrics and West African fabrics, and displaying more than 250 objects of Afro-Centric art by Jamaican artists, Great Huts aspires to contribute in a small but meaningful way both to the love of black culture and African history and to Jamaica’s significant role in perpetuating those influences. (Greathuts.com)
18)Warren M. Robbins – An American art collector, the late Robbins collection of African art led to the formation of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution. While working as a cultural attaché for the United States Embassy in Bonn in the early 1960’s, he impulsively entered into an antiques shop in Hamburg and spent $15 on a carved-wood figure of a man and woman, the work of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Back in Hamburg a year later, he spent $1,000 on 32 African masks, textiles and other pieces in a different shop. When he returned to the United States, Robbins decorated a home he purchased in Washington, D.C.with the 33 items he had brought back from Europe, and adorned the rooms with tropical plants to evoke the jungles of Africa. The rest is history. He went on to establish a freestanding museum for his African collection near Capitol Hillin 1963, and later moved his works to the home at that had been the residence of abolitionist Frederick Douglass from 1871 to 1877. This eventually led to the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian. (Africa.si.edu)
19)Dr. Daniel Sayers– A professor at American University, Dr. Sayers initiated a landscape study in 2002 into the Great Dismal Swamp, a hundred ninety-square-mile wildlife remote swampland in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina where enslaved Africans escaped to a life of wildlife refuge. Dr. Sayers has continued conducting tours to this area where he shares the story about generations of escaped slaves who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp from the early seventeenth century till the Civil War. Thousands Africans were able to create their own social and economic freedom from the oppressive world of enslavement and colonialism in the swampland between 1607 and 1860. Sayers tells the story in his book A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp. He believes that 10 generations of escaped slaves lived in the swamp, along with Native Americans who’d been driven off their land and also some whites who were shunned by mainstream society. Since 2003, Sayers has found thousands of artifacts during his Great Dismal Swamp digs, and some of these artifacts Sayers are set for display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture when it opens in 2016. (Dismalswamp.net)
20)Minister Alain St. Ange – The former Minister of Tourism for the African Islands Nation of Seychelles, St. Ange is a firm believer in preserving culture heritage as an integral part of tourism. Because of his outstanding work and proven leadership skills in tourism development, he is a sought after speaker for tourism conferences and seminars. St. Ange has has a strong belief in partnering and collaboration when it comes to promoting tourism as product, and he has proposed establishing a tourism initiative with an African Union Heritage Site label. He has called on UNESCO to declare the slave ruins at the Seychelles Mission Lodge of Sans Soucis to be a World Heritage site. As minister of tourism, he has enhanced Seychelles Afrik Festival and Africa Day events that highlights and promote African Cultural heritage. The creator of the Seychelles International Carnival, the world’s first carnival of nations promoting multiculturalism, Minister St. Ange has also taken measures to have the 1935 Colonial Era Drums Regulation of the Penal Code removed from the laws of Seychelles. The penal code was established to prohibit the beating of drums or tambours or the blowing of shells, etc. at night after 9 pm in Seychelles. St. Ange is currently the publisher of the St. Ange Tourism Report(StAnge.com.au)
21)William Zick – A retired administrative law judge, and former training officer for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Zick is the founder of AfriClassical.com. He launched the site in 2000 as a nonprofit educational venture promoting awareness of African heritage in classical music. The first page was devoted to Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges and within a few months was joined by pages on several other composers and musicians of African descent. Black Classical Music has become a global phenomenon and Zick’s site has visitors now come from over 100 countries each year. The site which is available in two languages, English and French contains information on over 52 outstanding composers, conductors and instrumental performers of Africa, the Americas and Europe. (AfriClassical.com)
Please visit the websites of these leaders for more information on their work.