As a young boy growing up in Harlem, I got great African history lessons from the street speakers and book stores on 125th Street. If you were just a frequent passerby, knowledge of self was yours virtually by osmosis, so persistent and almost omnipresent were speakers, day and night, and until midnight during late spring through summer months.
Yet offering information about Africa’s glorious past in a public school setting would earn you a stare down and possible trouble-maker reputation. I actually went from first grade through twelfth without ever having a black teacher. In fact, all of my teachers were Jews, and from them I learned a lot about Jewish history and culture, but absolutely nothing about African history.
What was then called “Negro History Week” went without even a mere mention. This is not about Mississippi and segregation, folks; we’re talking about New York City public schools, back in the day. What has changed over the years, somewhat across the United States, especially during Black History Month, is primarily the teaching of slave history minus the heroic slave revolts, and aspects of civil rights history; but no ancient African history.
Unfortunately, as readily available as this data is today, along with the fact that there are so many black teachers, principals and school board administrators in enough places to make a difference, there exists very little urgency to move on this educational issue. Aside from fear, too many black educators have not availed themselves of the requisite African history, anthropology and art so that they could teach all students this rich body of knowledge.
More than 80 years ago, Harvard University linguist Leo Wiener published three volumes called Africa and the Discovery of America. Through analyzing languages, Professor Wiener found an African and Arabic influence among medieval Mexican and South American people. By the 1970s, information began leaking out about years of excavating in Mexico that revealed numbers of sculptured heads of black men in gold, copper, clay and copal, done by pre-Columbian American artists.
Africans were in the Americas before slavery, indeed, long before the advent of Europeans. The links between Africa and America go back to pre-Columbian times. This information has been well known in certain circles for some time. Evidence exists not only in Mexico, but also in Central and South America, including Peru.
Through carbon-14 dating, it is clear that huge six to nine feet tall stone head sculptures of black men found among the Olmecs in Mexico and Central America are from about 800 to 700 B. C. This great art must be shown to the children and displayed in all the world’s museums.
In his definitively enlightening book, The African Presence in Ancient America: They Came Before Columbus, author Ivan Van Sertima says it’s hard for so many people to conceive of black Africans being worshipped by indigenous Americans.
“He [the African] has always been represented as the lowliest of the low, at least since the era of conquest and slavery,” Van Sertima writes. “His humiliation as a world figure begins, in fact, with the coming of Columbus.” As a footnote, Van Sertima explains, “Columbus himself was the first to initiate slavery in the Americas, even against the wishes of the Spanish Sovereigns.”
Eurocentric history would have people to believe that Africa had no mariners.
“Africans were navigating the Atlantic before Christ,” Van Sertima, the Rutgers University anthropologist and linguistics professor tells us. “They [Africans] had moved up the North Atlantic to Ireland, capturing part of that country in a very early period.”
Ancient Egypt under Ethiopian and Nubian domination documented their extensive shipping.
Ironies of all ironies, Africans introduced cotton to the Americas “in the fourth millennium B.C.,” according to Van Sertima. Cotton cultivation occurred in antiquity among Sudanese area blacks.
The African banana and the yam were also introduced in the Americas by Africans who had developed agriculture in West Africa about 5000 B.C. Africans did not borrow agricultural techniques from other people. History points to the Mande people of the western Sudan at the headwaters of the Niger River as the probable inventors.
It’s not hard to understand that knowledge of self transforms the human psyche, is it?