18 September 1946 – 12 September 1977
“The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value stems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity.”
“Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road toward emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”
South Africa was robbed of a fine leader and visionary when Bantu Stephen Biko died in 1977 in Pretoria after only 26 days in police custody. He died alone, naked, shackled, battered and bloodied in the back of a police van that took a long, slow trip so he would die on the way to the hospital. He was a black man in the hands of white police officers. He was only 31 years old when he died.
Biko was born in King Williams Town in 1946 and was introduced to politics at a young age by his activist older brother. This led to Biko’s expulsion from Lovedale College. He went on to study at St, Frances College, Marianhill, in Natal.
It was at the University of Natal (Black Section) that Biko’s leadership qualities started to flourish and he was elected to the students‘ representative council (SRC). In 1969 the South African Student Organization was formed with Biko as its first president. This organization was committed to the philosophy of black consciousness.
Because of his teaching on black consciousness Biko was banned, which meant that he was restricted to his home district in King William’s Town; he was not allowed to teach, to speak to more than one person at a time, to be published, or to attend any educational institution. He also had to report weekly to the local police. In spite of the ban, Biko was able to continue organizing the movement and to set up a rural health clinic outside King William’s Town for poor blacks who were not given access to city hospitals. He helped establish the Zimele Trust Fund to assist political prisoners and their families. He also continued to write for the SASO newsletter under the pen name Frank Talk.
On August 21, 1977, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act, which had been used to jail many black activists. Biko was brutally treated while in police custody, and when it was determined he needed hospitalization, and despite the fact that he was in detention in the sizable city of Port Elizabeth, he was taken, still chained and without even rudimentary medical treatment, in the back of a police Land Rover for a 1,200-kilometer journey to Pretoria. They drove slowly for hours as he bled to death from his internal injuries.
Biko is know worldwide as the father of black consciousness. He strongly believed that white liberals should devote their energies to education other white to accept majority rule in South Africa.
(Excerpted in part from Interfaith PeaceMakers’ biography of Stephen Biko)
“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
“Black Consciousness is an attitude of mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time.”
This picture is a needlepoint portrait from my “Persons of Interest” series. The title is a play on the phrase because the subjects of these portraits are people who have drawn the negative attention of governments and others who felt threatened by them, as well as being of particular interest to me because of how much they inspire me to be a better person and to dedicate myself to help other people. Portraits are approximate three feet square with 130,000 stitches and require 160 hours to complete.