February 1st marks the beginning of what is known in the United States as “Black History Month,” a period that began as “Negro History Week” when founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a noted black historian and scholar, in 1926. In the now 90 years since its inception, many schools, businesses and organizations across America take time to note the achievements of blacks who have impacted our nation’s progression as an economic and political super-power.
For as long as I can remember, Black History Month has always seemed limiting in that for one, the typical talking points center around slavery, Jim Crow and famous firsts, which include inventors, artists, political and social leaders and the like.
While the aforementioned areas of inquiry are important, the limit is that if viewed within a vacuum, one could believe that Blacks in America seemingly appeared from out of space to work as slaves, and that there is no prior story worth mention or learning. The truth is that “Black History” IS world history and any serious study of this field must begin with recognition of this very fact.
First, while it was once heavily disputed in the academy (with some hard-hearted hold-outs still living and teaching), civilization did not begin in theTigres-Euphrates Valley. No, man originated in Africa and later migrated northward into Europe and East toward the Tigris-Euphrates valley, Asia and beyond. The first noted civilizations were in Africa–not Mesopotamia. Ancient Kush, known to the Greeks and now the modern world as Ethiopia, was the first advanced civilization and was thriving at a time in which other African people who had settled in Europe and whose skin had lightened due to weather conditions and cave dwelling, were still living within and governed by loose tribal pacts.
As the Kushites pushed northward along the Nile a new civilization, Ancient Kemet, known to the world today as Egypt, soon developed and thrived. These Ancient Egyptians not only developed the pyramids, but more importantly, they developed the foundations of dynastic government, religion and philosophy that millennia later, would find Greek and Middle Eastern scholars clamoring at an opportunity to study at the so-called “Mystery Schools.” These schools taught architecture, building, rhetoric, logic, music, astronomy, war tactics and the arts and more importantly, set the foundation for the belief in one God and of importance to those of the Christian faith, the belief in a God as a part of a trinity long before Jesus Christ appeared on Earth.
Many notable Ancient Greek philosophers, mathematicians and rhetoricians, from Socrates and his intellectual progeny, to Euclid, the so-called “Father of Geometry,” to Homer, Aristophanes and Aesop owe most if not all of their knowledge to either direct study in the Egyptian Mystery System, or having learned the same from predecessors who had.
Understanding this, one must further understand that the great Roman Republic and Empire that blatantly envied and copied Greek philosophy and arts as its own, both are directly descended from a knowledge standpoint from the Ancient Egyptians who, again, were directly descended from the Ethiopians who, again, were Black.
One of the greatest historical debates of the past 500 years has been what race were the Ancient Egyptians. During the medieval period and later Renaissance, as Europe evolved from the so-called “Dark Ages,” it must be noted that some maps of Europe even termed all or parts of Northern Africa, including Egypt, as Southern Europe. If you ask why, well, it is quite simple; most Catholic scholars, men who during the Dark Ages comprised most of Western thought, were acutely aware of the fact that in the ancient world, Egypt–not Greece nor Rome–served as the progenitor of knowledge. Further, one must understand that even within Christian tradition, a young Jesus Christ, fleeing persecution by Herod, spent a number of years in, you guessed it, Egypt and presumably learning among the mystics who had taught earlier scholars and philosophers from other regions.
Further, long after Jesus’s Crucifixion, arguably the most influential Christian scholar, St. Augustine, hailed from North Africa and was noted to be of dark complexion. Now this is important in that by the medieval periods, even the conquests of the Northern African “Moors” into Spain and beyond had not tempered in the least bit the hostility that many Europeans had for their dark-skinned neighbors to the South. Now it must be noted that even millennia earlier, there had been cross marrying among the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and other lighter complexioned people to the point that by the end of the Dark Ages, many of the modern-day Egyptians, Libyans, and Moroccans looked much as they do today, brown to dark skinned with curly to kinky hair. Still, even as they looked at the time, they were not white or European. With Islam being the common religion there as well as through much of Sub-Saharan Africa, which included the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai that flourished while Europe was cloaked in intellectual darkness, as European powers began sowing the seeds for conquest in Africa, the racial composition of those to be conquered took on much importance.
As European powers made entry into Africa by the 15th century, it is well-known that a Trans-Saharan slave trade had long been in existence among both Northern Africans and Sub-Saharan Africans.
Where scholars differ is with respect to how this slave trade and enslavement differed from what would soon become the European dominated Trans-Atlantic trade. A number of scholars conclude that the Trans-Saharan trade was more akin to slavery as it had existed in antiquity–sans the daily brutality, rapes and murders that marked a Trans-Atlantic trade that was known for its particular barbarity. While the latter is well documented, what is known is that as Europeans developed the nationalist mindset that Portuguese, German, French, Belgian and British humanity was superior to any and all people or civilizations found in “Africa,” the need to cast Africa as a “Dark Continent,” filled with “barbarians” who were “uncivilized,” and in need of being “Christianized,” became the common excuse for what at its root was a simple desire to derive maximum profit in the new world by exploiting free labor. This slur remained well into the 20th Century both in history/social studies classes and popular arts such as “Tarzan–Lord of the Apes.”
Even worse, as European colonial powers gained vast territorial acquisitions throughout middle and southern Africa, soon the rape of the land and its mineral resources was in full swing. But more crucially, to complete the form of mental absolution that the ruling and business elite white Europeans needed after doing un-Christ-like deeds such as pillaging, plundering, raping and murdering African people and lands, the lingering question in smearing these peoples as “barbarians” was how to rectify the fact that their ancestors from millennia earlier had developed Ethiopia, Egypt and later Ghana, Mali and Songhai?
The key to this white-wash of history was to classify those Ancient Africans from a historical and then current perspective as being something other than what they were–Black people or direct descendants of Black people. This served the dual purpose of assuaging any semblance of guilt for the mistreatment that was soon to follow for many Black Africans, and it also assuaged insecurities that if civilization, scholarship and even religion derived from Africans, how, then, could one square the idea of European racial superiority with the idea that if God made man in his image, as Christians believed and believe, and the first man was made in Africa, then invariably God and the fathers and mothers of mankind and civilization were, indeed, BLACK.
So while it is awesome to study and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech during this Black History Month or recite how Rosa Parks gave up her seat on the bus, it is even better to move beyond the known and to delve deeply into that which is known–but often untaught–in Western Civilization and History classes across America.