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Black History Fact of the Week: Jomo Kenyatta

OW Staff | 10/20/2010, 5 p.m.

As a young man, Kenyatta, who was born with the name Kamau wa Ngengi, worked alongside his medicine-man grandfather after his parents' death. He also suffered from infections in his feet and one leg. At 10-years-old, he underwent surgery at the Church of Scotland mission, where he was exposed to Europeans. He then became a student at the mission.

He later worked as a clerk in the public works department of Nairobi; this is arguably where his interest in politics was initiated.

After marrying his first wife Grace Wahu in 1920, he became involved with politics. He began lobbying for his tribe's (Kikuyu) land rights, and wrote articles that were published in British newspapers. He joined the East Africa Association, which was established to recover Kikuyu lands that were lost, when Kenya became a British colony.

During the 1930s, Kenyatta obtained an education in economics and social anthropology at the London School of Economics.

With his education and passion for his people, Kenyatta eventually founded the Pan-African Federation in 1946 and also became the president of the Kenya African Union a year later. It was during these times that his life was threatened on several occasions by White settlers.

Because of his rebellious activities against the British rule, Kenyatta was arrested in October 1952 on charges that he was allegedly involved with the Mau Mau Rebellion. He denied any involvement but was sentenced to seven years of hard labor and exiled from Kenya.

Despite the government's attempt to suppress Kenyatta, he was released August 1961, when other African revolutionaries of the Kenyan African National Union refused to cooperate with the British. At The London (Constitutional) Conference in 1962, Kenyatta and other Kenyan freedom fighters hammered out the parameters for the nation's independence from Britain. He became the first prime minister Dec. 12, 1963. A year later, Kenyatta won the election and became the country's first president under Kenya's independence.

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