It was the summer of 1976 when thousands of high school students marched in South Africa’s Soweto Township, near Johannesburg. They were protesting the government requirement that Afrikaans, a language spoken by the white minority, was to be used during instruction in Soweto’s high schools, which were primarily black.
The students marched peacefully but were met by heavily armed police officers who responded with bullets and tear gas; at least 600 students were killed in the chaos. But their revolution was pivotal in the world deciding that South African apartheid had to come to an end.
On Tuesday, scholars, poets, community leaders, and musicians will gather at the Museum of the American Revolution for “Black History Untold: Revolution,” which focuses on black revolutionary experiences from around the world, including the Soweto Uprising. The event is the latest installment of Black History Untold, a series created by journalist Sofiya Ballin, which showcases black storytelling to share the black history that isn’t always taught.
“Not everyone is a lover of history because of how it was taught to them in middle school,” said Scott Stephenson, CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution. But events like this help to show “fresh reflections from younger generations on the meaning of revolution in their lives and communities.”
The event is a chance to showcase short films that explore revolution, as it relates to the black experience. (There are 15 vignettes, each about two minutes long). Philadelphia-based singer Le Mo and poet Jamal Parker will perform and the screening will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Timothy Welbeck, a professor at Temple University. Several of the film’s participants will be there, including activists Jamira Burley and Mike Africa Jr.
Here’s an early peek into some of the event’s subjects: three black women you may not have learned about in school.
Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba was the monarch of the Mbundu people, present-day Angola. She led the resistance to Portuguese colonization and their expanding slave trade in Central Africa in the 17th century. She was a fierce leader and a skilled negotiator. She was once sent to negotiate a peace treaty with the Portuguese, but, in an effort to undermine her authority, was not offered a chair, according to BBC News Africa. But she was so respected by her people, that her maid got on her hands and knees and offered to act as her chair.
During her monarchy, she was able to forge an alliance with the Dutch to ward off the Portuguese. Nzinga is lauded for her military acumen, her ability to leverage her gender during diplomatic interactions, and her dedication to fight against the colonization of her people. Many remember her as the Mother of Angola.
During the Haitian Revolution, many women were active in combat and worked as spies, (like Sanité Bélair, a lieutenant during the Saint-Domingue expedition). Others, such as Cécile Fatiman, were known for using vodou as a tool for liberation and organizing during the revolution. For many Haitians, vodou was more than a religion, it was a way for enslaved people to mobilize and communicate.
Fatiman became well known as the leader of a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman, which is largely considered to be one of the events that sparked the Haitian Revolution. “There would be no Haitian revolution if it weren’t for the black women who were a part of it,” said Ballin (who is a former Inquirer reporter).
Ella Baker was a civil-rights activist whose career sprawled five decades. In the 1950s, she convinced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to loan her $800 to hold a conference for young organizers. This led to the establishment of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which had a significant impact on young people’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.