little known black history facts

Little Known Black History Fact 2/3/17

In the mid-1800’s, West Africa’s Kru tribe was known among slave traders and colonialists for their resistance to capture and enslavement. They were also invaluable to merchants who visited the region because of their knowledge of the rough coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Kru settled in the region now known as Liberia and the Ivory Coast and in some portions of Sierra Leone, most notably Freetown. Evidence of Kru tribesmen on the west coast of Nigeria and in Cameroon has also been reported. In the 1700’s, the Kru were vital cogs in the trade between Europe and other nations as they skillfully navigated small ships in the choppy coastal waters.

The Kru were infamous for fighting for their freedom, reducing their value to slave traders who found them too difficult to tame for slavery. If captured, the Kru would simply kill themselves, rather than become property. In battle, they were fierce even if their weapons were inferior to those of the invaders and often vanquished foes on sheer grit alone.

In 1856, the Kru clashed with The Republic of Maryland, Liberia’s former name. The Grebo people, a subgroup within the Kru ethnic group, assisted in the resistance and their victory over the Maryland settlers became the stuff of legend.

Today, the Kru largely exist in the same areas as they did then, employing tribal hierarchy systems independent of one another. One of the most well-known Kru descendants is Ivorian soccer star Didier Drogba, the all-time top scorer for the Ivory Coast national team and a feared striker for his former team, Chelsea. Drogba helped his nation’s team qualify for its debut appearance in the 2006 World Cup event.


Although my degree is in psychology, I have done a lotof reading and research in Black history. One of the joys of my work is learning from my patients. However, rarely does a patient introduce me to something in Black history I have not at least heard of. Recently, one of my patients, a vibrant young journalism student, stumped me when she asked me if I knew about Pinkster. With a name like that, it would have quickly registered in my mind if I had ever come across it before. Now that I know, I think you should too.

Pinkster, the forgotten holiday

Africans lost much of their culture during slavery, but remnants of harvest celebrations remain in Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Trinidad. New York once had its own spring festival celebrating life and filled with wild abandon.

Pinkster was rooted in the Christian celebration of Pentecost, or Whitsunday. It marked the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples after his Ascension. The Dutch colonists of 17th-century New Amsterdam—New York’s predecessor—imported the holiday from Europe, but it was New Amsterdam’s enslaved African population that, by the 19th century, would combine the holiday with traditional African celebrations, creating one of the city’s most popular faith-based festivals. Pinkster was well known between New York City and Albany, along stretches of New Jersey and out on Staten and Long Islands.

Pinkster is a forgotten holiday because it was outlawed. In 1811 in Albany, the state legislature passed the “Pinkster Law,” which prohibited any person from “march[ing] or parad[ing], with or without any kind of music” on any public street in that city during Pinkster.

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1906 reflections on his youth paint a picture of Pinkster. “Another Dutch festival of universal observance was Pinkster, held in the springtide,” he wrote. “It grew to be especially the negroes’ day, all of the blacks of the city and neighboring country gathering to celebrate it. There was a great fair, with merrymaking and games of all kinds on the Common, where the City Hall park now is; while the whites also assembled to look on, and sometimes to take part in the fun.”


  • The Balance,     “Corporation of Albany vs. The State of New-York,” June 4, 1811.
  • New York: A Sketch of the City’s Social,     Political, and Commercial Progress from the First Dutch Settlement to     Recent Times, by Theodore Roosevelt, 1906.
  • Long Hammering,     “Pinkster Carnival,” by A.J. Williams-Myers, 1994.