A lecture delivered for the Minority Ethnic Unit of the Greater London Council, London, England, March 6–8, 1986. It was addressed mainly to the African community in London consisting of African people from the Caribbean and African people from Africa.
In the closing years of the nineteenth century the greatest talent was that of Lewis Latimer. He was not only a draftsman, but drew up the plans for the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell was the one who invented the telephone, but the patent that had to be drawn up, all the moving parts and all of the vital parts, was done by Lewis Latimer, a Black man. Latimer also did a few other things that don't make me to happy. He improved the Maxim gun that became the forerunner of the present day machine gun. He is also responsible for the florescent light. He wrote the first book on the incandescent light that you know as the fluorescent light. He worked with Thomas Edison. He was one of the Thomas Edison pioneers. While Thomas Edison created the principle of the electric light, his light went out in twenty minutes. But the man who created the filament made the light go on indefinitely. That was Lewis Latimer, and he deserves as much credit for the electric light as does Thomas Edison. And he and his accomplishments were completely left out of history. Only Thomas Edison's accomplishments are mentioned.
Not only did African Americans invent a lot of other things, including labor-saving devices, African Americans have played a major role in getting America into space. In space medicine the leading doctor is an African American woman. The person that designed the interior of the ship, including the disposal facility, is an African American man. When they sent some astronauts up without instructing them in his method of disposal of waste matter, a near catastrophe occurred. The space buggy that they used to walk on the moon was, basically, a Black invention and so is the camera that they used on the trip to the moon.
You might wonder that after all that the African Americans have contributed in making the United States comfortable, even to the coupling that hold all the weights together when trains are moving around the country, why are they having so much trouble, and why are they still having difficulty? Principally because we were not brought to the United States to be given democracy, to be given Christianity. We were brought to labor and once the labor was done, we were an unwanted population in the United States. We were a nation within a nation searching for a nationality.
When we put all of us together, we are larger, in number, than all of the nations in Scandinavia put together. Their population would not be as large as the African American population in the United States alone. According to the statistics of the United Nations and the Jewish Year Book all the Jews in the world would come to less than one-half the number of African American population in the United States. Yet Israel gets more financial aid than all of the African nations in the world put together. Principally because we have not developed the political apparatus to put the right pressures on the leaders in the world to make it [otherwise] so.
I see no solution for African peoples, any place in this world, short of Pan-Africanism. Wherever we are on the face of this earth we are an African people. We have got to understand that any problem faced by Africans is the collective problem of all the African people in the world, and not just the problem of the Africans who live in any one part of the world. Once we put all of our skills together, and realize that between the United States, the Caribbean Islands, Brazil and other South American countries there are 150 million African people, and the population of Africa has been counted as 500 million for over fifty years, implying that the African man has been sleeping away from home, and you know that is not true.
In the twenty-first century there are going to be a billion African people on this earth. We have to ask ourselves, "Are we ready for the twenty-first century?" Do we go into the twenty-first century begging and pleading or insisting and demanding? We have to ask and answer that question and we have to decide if we are going to be the rearguard for somebody else's way of life, or do we rebuild our own way of life, or will we be the vanguard to rebuild our own nation.
We have to say to ourselves when we look at our history, the great Nile Valley civilization, the kind of civilizations we built on other rivers, the Niger, the Limpopo, the Zambezi, the kind of civilizations that gave life to the world before the first Europeans wore shoes or had houses that had windows. We need to say to ourselves, with conviction, that ,"If I did it once, I will do it again."
By John Henrik Clarke