In 1619, “20. and odd Negroes” arrived off the coast of Virginia, where they were “bought for victualle” by labor-hungry English colonists. Although 1619 may hold some historical significance, it is not the best place to begin a meaningful inquiry into the history of African peoples in America.
In Africa, traces of migration routes, art and civilization take us all the way through the Nubian kingdoms that began 7,000 years ago. During that time, not hundreds, or thousands, but millions of Africans lived and died before the idea of the trans-Atlantic slave trade would come into being.
Thousands of years before American slavery, African kingdoms like the Axum Empire ruled. Other rich civilizations like the Ghana or Songhai empires have so much to tell that they alone could fill Black History Month.
Nearly 300 years before the enslavement of Africans in America, Mana Musa, who ruled in what would be modern day West Africa, was the richest man alive. Adjusted for inflation, his wealth is estimated to have been more than $400 billion — which would make him the richest man to have ever lived.
Yes, Harriet Tubman is heroic and deserves to be highlighted, but the history of Black people did not begin with her courageous efforts on the Underground Railroad in 1850. Africans had already been in the United States for 231 years by the time she began her efforts. Beyond that,the 246 years of American enslavement represent less than 1% of known Black history from around the world.
Starting Black History Month or the study of Black history with enslavement is a formative, emotional, psychological mistake to introduce the history of Black people as subjugated, enslaved peoples. Not only is it it’s simply inaccurate, but it actually does damage — not just to young Black children, but to all children and adults as well, when they are given the distinct impression that Black people began as inferior subjects and somehow found their way out.
Black History Month Must NEVER Begin or End With Slavery
It should begin and continue 365 days a year by telling/teaching, for example, that:
*African people mapped, calculated and erected some of the greatest monuments like the pyramids, the sphinx and the obelisks (after which the Washington Monument is modeled) or that our people were literally the lifeblood of some of history’s greatest civilizations.
*That calculus, trigonometry and geometry all trace their origins back to African scholars.
* Haile Selassi I, ruler of Ethiopia, could trace his ancestry to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and beyond that to Cush in 6280 B.C. Never mind that Selassi actually has the most ancient lineage of any human being in history.
*Hannibal, an African was one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever known, conquered and extended the rule of the Carthaginian Empire into Italy, Rome and Spain.
*Carthage, Hannibal’s homeland, is in Africa.
*The Kingdoms of Mali, Songhai, Cush or Ghana, all rivaled the rivaled the dominance and territorial acquirement of ancient Greece or Rome.
* Ancient Egyptians were clearly Black Africans and who had arguably the most influential civilization of all time.
* The Ishango bone and the Lebombo bone are two of the most important developments in the history of mathematics.
*The Lebombo bone, dating back to around 37,000 B.C., was one of the first calendars ever created and the Ishango bone has been called “The oldest testimonial of numericalcalculus” in human history. Both were created by Africans.
*Mansa Musa, the King of Mali who extended the empire’s reach into one of the largest on the planet and imposed the system of provinces and territorial mayors and governors we still use in the United States today.
It’s time we extend the dialogue onto the tremendous accomplishments of Africans throughout history who have advanced math, music, language, the sciences and so much more for thousands of years. Then and only then will we truly be celebrating “Our Story.”
SOURCES: The Fallacy of 1619: Rethinking the History of Africans in Early America by Michael Guasco; Why Black HistoryMoShould Never Begin With Slavery” by Shaun King; and Dion Raouin
OUR STORY: Top (l-r) Queen Tiye, the great royal wife of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III and grandmother of King Tut; “The Great Zimbabwe,” the largest ancient structure South of the Sahara and second only to the Pyramids of Egypt in size and grandeur; Haile Selassi I. The most ancient lineage in the world is that of the Ethiopian royal family. The Emperor Haile Selassi I, ruler of Ethiopia, traced his ancestry to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and beyond that to Cush, 6280 B.C. Row 2: Egyptian Zodiac chart, a book from the Great Library of the ancient city of Timbuktu, and Taharqa, probably one of the most famous rulers of Napatan Kush, reigning from 690 to 664 B.C.. At 16, this great Nubian king led his armies against the invading Assyrians in defense of his ally, Israel.
This action earned him a place in the Bible (Isaiah 37:9, 2 Kings 9:9); Third Row, Egyptians credited with introducing the earliest fully-developed base 10 numeration system at least as early as 2700 BC; ancient Nubia (Sudan) “God’s Land” has twice as many pyramids in Sudan as there are in Egypt; the Dogon people have been credited with having incredible advanced astronomical knowledge; bottom row, Imhotep, an ancient Olmec Stone Head with African features which historian Ivan van Sertima points out in his book, They Came Before Columbus, reveals compelling documentation of he presence and legacy of Africans in ancient America; an image of an ancient Ethiopian Stone church. Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the 1st century AD and (Ethiopia has long been considered the first Christian nation); and finally, Akhenaten, Egyptian Pharoah of the 8th Dynasty, introduced monotheistic worship. African history is the oldest human history in the world. From Kemet to the present, great leaders have shaped African and world history.