Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Paul Robeson on Race

Thai and Talk

Baker's Dozen Annual dinner Aug. 26 2015

Baker’s Dozen Annual dinner Aug. 26 2015

Wednesday night this week was the customary annual dinner of Baker’s Dozen, one of my book groups.

We met at Sonja’s home where her husband took this picture for us. I’m in the blue, lower right.

We had decided to order dinner from Rainbow Thai in Westport so we had each selected from the menu. Nancy and Rochelle picked up the food.

We ended up with a rich variety of delicious dishes. Mine was Rendang beef; I also ordered an eggplant and asparagus dish, and shared chicken satay with Fay. Actually we all shared. Ihad food to take home too!

We weren’t discussing a book this time. But the lively conversation between the ten of us about politics, families, and our lives lasted until well after 10 pm.

For our next meeting we are reading When the Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin.

When Goats Eat the Crops

Friends of Nigeria is fortunate to have an excellent newsletter which of course means excellent volunteers to make it happen! I’m so grateful to Jim, Warren, David, and the rest of their fabulous crew!

PC Training Group Nigeria IV, UCLA, Summer 1962

PC Training Group Nigeria IV, UCLA, Summer 1962

At our conference in Berkeley there was no one else from my Nigeria IV training group. But I want to share a picture of us with you – sent to me by BarbaraLee Toneatti, nee Purcell.

If you were in the group and get out your magnifying glass, maybe you can find yourself. I’m pretty sure I’m in the next to last row, in a dark top, between Bob Wrin and Walt Lewis.

Put a note in the comments if you want a copy, or on the contact page.

But lots of people were there from other groups. The newsletter reported that Friends of Nigeria had the largest of any country group at the conference! I think our president Greg said there were about 80 of us.

Since Peace Corps is no longer in Nigeria, we have chosen to work with Voluntary Service Overseas, or VSO, which is similar. The most recent newsletter included an update on several projects we support.

In our day as Peace Corps volunteers, all the VSO’s were British, but today they come from many other countries in Africa and elsewhere.

Bernie, a VSO in Kwara State, reported on the challenges facing educators. He said that some schools had no lab equipment for teaching science, others had equipment, but lacked teachers.

He wrote, “Those who did possess lab equipment locked it safely away, acutely aware of its value; however their frustration at not being in a position to utilize it to educate their pupils was clearly evident.” How sad!

But he was encouraged by the principals he met.

“All principals were well-informed, organized and passionate about improving the quality of education available for their pupils. They were frank about the numerous challenges they faced and nurtured what few facilities they had available to them.

“Some had attempted to establish agricultural projects for the children, but a lack of funding to fence the land on which they planted resulted in local goats consuming their crops.”

And we worry about deer eating our flowers in Westport CT!

Beth, Ikem, and Nkiru at the mall

Beth, Ikem, and Nkiru at the mall

A Shopper’s Eye

Clem and I went to our daughter Beth’s in Philadelphia last weekend. On Sunday Beth and I took her 2-year old son Ikem and 16-year old daughter Nkiru to the King of Prussia Mall.

I had promised Nkiru a shopping trip for her birthday in July, so I accompanied her to two teen clothing stores.

She was amazing! She could scan a rack of hundreds of skimpy tops to find one or two she liked. After she had circumnavigated the first store, she had six to try on. We bought four.

At the other store the approach was similar and she selected two. I suggested a couple of items but my choices didn’t make the cut!

Beth meanwhile entertained Ikem at the children’s play area before we met up to head home.

Race in America – Fifty Five Years Ago

Ike, the friend of my son Chinaku’s whomI met in London in April, shared this on Twitter. Paul Robeson, ina 1960 news conference in Australia, comments on race in America.

And everything he says about race then is still true today!

He says that the American Negroes and Africans, like Nigerians – and he mentions Azikiwe, an old friend – are brilliant. He says that America is losing out by “not making us first class citizens.”

“A lot of America belongs to me yet,” he says, since “my father slaved for it.”

Who Does the Country Belong To?

Are you familiar with the Doctrine of Discovery? I read about it in Beacon Broadside a few days ago, and remembered hearing of it years before. Now the information has sunk in more deeply.

“According to the centuries-old Doctrine of Discovery, European nations acquired title to the lands they “discovered,” and Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Europeans had arrived and claimed it.”

“Under this legal cover for theft, Euro-American wars of conquest and settler colonialism devastated Indigenous nations and communities, ripping their territories away from them and transforming the land into private property, real estate,” the article says.

Robeson talked about this, though not by name, in his interview.

I spoke with Kathleen, an Episcopal priest and a member of Baker’s Dozen Book Group, about the Doctrine of Discover. She called it ‘insidious.’

She is right. It is insidious. What to do about it is a major question facing several religious and faith-based groups today.

What do you think we can do?

Speaking Engagements Coming Up

I’ll be speaking in Crestview Hills, near Cincinnati, on Sept. 22 at 7 pm. More details coming.

And before that, I’m part of the Author Luncheon Series on Sept. 10 at noon at Bernard’s in Ridgefield CT. If you’re nearby, please come, and bring your friends!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Thanks for the heads up of your speaking engagement on 9-22-15 in Crestview Hills, KY. I would love to get some of your other former students together to attend. I look forward to more details.

  2. Great to be reminded of Paul Robeson; my parents discussed him and his career endlessly. And congratulations on your gig at Bernard’s! Judy

    • Thank you, Judy. Robeson was a great singer, civil rights activits, and actor. I loved the video. I’m happy to be presenting at Bernard’s. I was there two years ago for another author’s luncheon – the author was my teacher and editor. And now it’s my turn!

  3. I listened to Paul Robeson recordings many times as I was growing up in Texas! I enjoyed reading your post about him and found the explanation of the “Doctrine of Discovery” both awful and useful in understanding colonial exploitation.

  4. Yes, thanks for reminding me of Paul Robeson’s message. I would like to see a closer version of BarbaraLea’s picture of Nigeria IV in training. I spot Don Samuelson who sadly died recently but it is hard to see others.

  5. Thanks for your remembrance of Paul Robeson. What remarkable guy! An all-American football player at Rutgers, a famous professional actor and singer, and an outspoken critic of racism.
    Last fall I organized a worship service at the Unitarian Universalists of the Blue Ridge celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer. Our opening music was a recording of Paul Robeson singing “Go Down, Moses.” It’s a very moving spiritual, and it’s easy to find on the Internet.

    • Thanks for your comment, Steve. Yes, Robeson was remarkable. Next time I’m involved in planning a worship service at our UU church in Westport on issues of race, I will remember the Robeson recording.