April 6, 2008

Emeagwali: 'The Graves Are Not Full Yet'

Philip Emeagwali is a giant in the information technology industry. He has served as a keynoter for BDPA in the past. Born in Nigeria, this computer genius studied for his doctorate from the University of Michigan. He is best known for linking 65,000 computers to form the fastest computer on Earth and founding the Internet. Emeagwali considers himself to be “a Black scientist with a social responsibility to communicate science to the Black Diaspora.”

He shared his reflections on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. last week in Atlanta. I invite you to reflect on his words as shared below:

Walk with me down memory lane. The time: 1968. In 30 months, one million dead. The setting: a dusty camp in Biafra where survivors waited and hoped for peace. The survivors: Refugees fleeing from the “Dance of Death.” My mentor: One of the refugee camp directors, whom I called “Teacher” out of respect.

“Martin Luther King has been killed,” Teacher said, with a pained voice and vacant eyes. I looked towards Teacher, wondering: “Who is Martin Luther King?” I was a 13-year-old refugee in the west African nation of Nigeria, a land then called Biafra. Martin Luther King. What did that name mean?

Eight out of ten Biafrans were refugees exiled from their own country. Two years earlier, Christian army officers had staged a bloody coup killing Muslim leaders. The Muslims felt the coup was a tribal mutiny of Christian Igbos against their beloved leaders. The aggrieved Muslims went on a killing rampage, chanting: “Igbo, Igbo, Igbo, you are no longer part of Nigeria!” In the days that followed, 50,000 Igbos were killed in street uprisings.

Killing was not new to us in Biafra. I was 13, but I knew much of killing. Widows and orphans were most of the refugees in our camp. They had survived the Igbo “Dance of Death” – a euphemism for the mass executions. One thousand men at gunpoint forced to dance a public dance. Seven hundred were then shot and buried en masse in shallow graves. When told to hurry up and return to his regular duty, one of the murderers said: “The graves are not yet full.”

A few days later, with only the clothes on our backs, we fled from this “Dance of Death.” That was six months before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Teacher and I were eventually conscripted into the Biafran army and sent to the front, two years after our escape. After the war, Teacher – who had taught me the name of Martin Luther King – was among the one million who had died. I – a child soldier – was one of the fifteen million who survived.

Africa is committing suicide: a two-decade war in Sudan, genocidal killings in Rwanda, scorched-earth conflicts in Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Liberia. The wars in modern Africa are the largest global-scale loss of life since the establishment of the Atlantic Slave trade, which uprooted and scattered Africa’s sons and daughters across the United States, Jamaica, and Brazil.

Africa’s wars are steering the continent toward a sea of self-destruction so deep that even the greatest horror writers are unable to fathom its depths. So, given our circumstances, Martin Luther King was a name unknown, a dead man among millions, with a message that never reached the shores of Biafra. Neither did his message reach the ears of “The Black Scorpion,” Benjamin Adekunle, a tough Nigerian army commander, whose credo of ethnic cleansing knew nothing of Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement: “We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces move into Igbo territory, we even shoot things that do not move.”

As we heed Martin Luther King Jr.’s call, and march together across the world stage, let us never forget that we who have witnessed and survived the injustice of such nonsensical wars are the torchbearers of his legacy of peace for our world, our nation, and our children.

The passage above was excerpted from a speech delivered by Philip Emeagwali at Morehouse College's Science and Spirituality Week celebration.


Jamie said...

Of all the tributes and memorials, I think this is one of the most moving I have read. Thank you for posting it.

Villager said...

Jamie - I'm glad to have opportunity to share it. Please feel free to direct your blog readers to it if you have time or inclination...

peace, Villager

Anonymous said...

“a Black scientist with a social responsibility to communicate science to the Black Diaspora.”

I'm aspiring to do the same. It hasn't been particularly easy. But it is definitely needed.

Villager said...

DN - How can I help you move towards your goal?

peace, Villager

Anonymous said...

Thanks for asking Villager.

With the growing lists & aggregates for black bloggers, I'm hoping these lists will create Science and Education categories.

Right now, the many black blogs that provide social, political or entertainment commentaries are grouped under such headings. Yes, Science and Education blogs are fewer in number but right now these blogs are just thrown into the mix under variou headings -like lifestyle or family or other topics. So it's hard to share with people reliably.

Even if Science Blogging is still too new for the Black Blogosphere - at least an Education category could serve as a catch all until the science legions build up. I can think of a few to include already - CT Herd's Blog - Planning & Preparing for College and the BETF blog.

Villager said...

DN - My observation is that you need to create your own sometimes! However, I did notice that the new BlackBlogWatch.com has a category for Technology blogs. Would your Science & Education fit in that category for now?

peace, Villager

Anonymous said...

Villager - yea. for now. I noticed my blog was listed. Are you responsible for that? If so thank you.

Right now it is listed under lifestyle. But I emailed the creator and he said he was open to expanding the categories. So I'm optimistic.

And I'm finally hip to Clutch and it's related blogs. My summer scedule has opened up, so I might be able to attend the BWB conference this summer. I'm getting my thoughts together, but I'm leaning toward making a pitch to feature more science-related articles on sites that are already popular. Creating my own is nice, but it just tends to attract people/readers who are already interested in that topic. I really want to reach broader and under-served audiences.

Thanks for all of the info and help.

Villager said...

DN Lee - I would be happy to publish anything that you have over on my other blog...

Anonymous said...

thanks villager