Remembering Baba Nyika Ajanaku

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Editor’s Note: Baba Nyika Ajanaku, a.k.a. That Afrikan Man, joined the ancestors Tuesday, April 16, 2024. The Farish Streeter, who attended Smith Robertson School, was owner of Jackson’s oldest Afrocentric business, the Afrikan Art Gallery. Book publisher and author Meredith McGee publicly thanked him in 2019 for “supporting Black authors.” In honor of the legacy he leaves for generations to emulate, and hold dear his lifelong belief that “image is everything”, we reprint the following article featured in the Jackson Advocate September 29-October 5, 2022. Celebration of life services were not available at press time.

Nyika Ajanaku, the proprietor of the Afrikan Art Gallery, located at 800 North Farish St., Jackson, was born and raised in Jackson Mississippi, and graduated from Lanier High School. He has thus been in the city for more than 70 years.

Much of that time, and virtually all of his adult life, has been spent as a proud Afrikan advocate, scholar, and entrepreneur. His passion has been and continues to be the Africanization of Black people in America. He wants them to be able to understand and identify with their heritage prior to the European invasion. The Afrikan Art Gallery is merely the latest manifestation of his effort. The gallery began in 1975 as the Bantu Club. Last year, we narrated the history of this institution in the Jackson Advocate

For this week’s special edition of the Jackson Advocate, we are moving beyond this single but important enterprise to take a deeper look at the man himself. To be more specific, we will spotlight little known community outreach endeavors that he undertook which were entrepreneurial in nature.

One of the first outreach efforts was towards Charles Evers after he had been recently elected mayor of Fayette. He and the mayor were able to reach an understanding that permitted him to sell Afrikan-oriented products – books, clothing, jewelry, audio visuals – at the events sponsored by the Evers administration. Based upon those negotiations, Ajanaku set up shop at the concerts and celebratory events sponsored in Fayette, Jackson, Holmes County, and in other locations where Evers was involved. For Ajanaku, this was more a matter of educating the community than just earning a living. Evers’ descendants have sustained the relationship and followed through on the efforts.

In a similar manner, Ajanaku reached out to Harvey Johnson when Johnson became the first Black mayor of Jackson. In a very specific situation, he sought Johnson’s support in supplying the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center with Afrikan books, clothing, and other artifacts. As a result of their discussions, Ajanaku supplied the products that got the Smith Robertson Gift Shop up and running. 

An important agent in cementing and implementing the transaction was Pamela Junior, who was the assistant director of the museum at the time and who is now the director of the Two Museums of Mississippi. During his collaboration with Smith Robertson, Ajanaku supplied products basically at cost in an effort to encourage more citizens to become consumers of Afrikan products. He had hoped to duplicate the procedure at the Two Museums’ facility, but without the chance to negotiate directly with someone of the temperament of Pamela Junior and perhaps because that was a state facility, the effort was not as successful as it had been at Smith Robertson.

Thirdly, Ajanaku met with Bennie Thompson after his election as Bolton’s first Black mayor. Thompson enthusiastically welcomed Ajanaku to sell Afrikan products in the town. This third venture, which was in addition to the shops that he had established in Jackson, enabled him to sell to the communities in western Hinds County and the Vicksburg area. According to Ajanaku, Thompson designed and provided him with a license to sell such products there – a document of which he was justly proud and has retained to this day. In this same Bolton effort, Ajanaku worked with and provided products to the Black and Proud School, founded and operated by Brother Howard Spencer. In the Bolton connection, he began a close association with current Jackson Public School Trustee and NAACP activist Frank Figgers.

It should also not go unnoticed that Ajanaku has had his products and his employees at every Kwanzaa celebration sponsored by the coalition of city departments and community groups. In more recent times, the same has been true of other Black or Afrikan celebrations, such as Juneteenth. In every case, he has remained in contact with suppliers in the Americas and on the continent of Africa in order to make authentic products available to the community.

It is worth noting that his efforts are the kinds of things that can be instructive for younger generations of activists, educators, and entrepreneurs, all of whom are crucially needed presently. Activists are needed to trumpet and champion the issues involving culture, politics, and economics, as they relate to race and ethnicity. Activists provide the courage and energy needed to initiate and sustain movements that bring about change. Educators are needed to provide the guidance essential in helping students of all ages discover or make sense of what is happening in the larger society, especially as anti-democratic, anti-humanitarians act to destroy the American Dream of marginalized groups and individuals. Entrepreneurs are needed to promote the distribution of the materials/resources that feed the attitudinal and informational change. They all – activists, educators, and entrepreneurs – can take a page from the life’s work of Nyika Ajanaku. 

In very significant ways, Ajanaku has been doing all three since his high school days at Lanier. They became even more noted, starting with his association with Mayor Charles Evers in 1969, 53 years ago. Because he has not been one to seek the limelight, many may not be aware of the effective work that he has been doing to promote knowledge of Afrikan history and culture, including the civil rights and Black liberation movements. His work has been and continues to be the Africanization of African people in America. This has been non-stop and includes his current push to have his products distributed on the campuses of Jackson State University and Tougaloo College. The current generation of students would well benefit from this effort. 

For all of these reasons, it is fitting and essential that we present this modest essay designed to acquaint Jackson Advocate readers with Nyika Ajanaku. He and publisher Charles Tisdale enjoyed a long-time mutual relationship, one promoting news from the Black community, the other promoting Afrikan products, and both advancing Blackness in the most authentic way. 

He is an Afrikan activist, educator, and entrepreneur worthy of the title “Community Hero.” Join us in offering honor to one to whom honor is due.  

Republish This Story

Copy and Paste the below text.

Remembering Baba Nyika Ajanaku

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
April 29, 2024