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Scholarly books: An authoritative look at African and African American history

Anthony W. Neal | 2/7/2012, 7:50 p.m.
Anthony W. Neal is the author...

Other notable works which have been fundamental to the rescue and reconstruction of African history and humanity include “Stolen Legacy” (1992), by George G. M. James, “The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D., 3rd ed.” (1987) by Chancellor Williams, and John Jackson’s “Introduction to African Civilization” (2001).

As did Diop, George James traces Greek philosophy back to the socio-religious philosophy of Egypt, which served as a source and framework for higher education in both Egypt and other regions of the ancient world. Among the students who studied in Egypt or borrowed knowledge from Egyptian libraries were Pythagoras, Democratus, Thales, Herodotus, Aristotle and Plato.

Writing from an Afrocentric perspective, Chancellor Williams cites several factors which contributed to massive destruction of ancient African civilizations. Among these factors were European and Asian conquest, religious conversion to Christianity and Islam, miscegenation which led to a lack of appreciation of black heritage, internal problems of ethnic chauvinism, natural developments such as the expanding desert, and ideological war by European scholars determined to conceal and distort African history. His unique interpretation raises issues about the black past that are rarely discussed.

John Jackson’s greatest contribution is his documentation of Moorish contribution to Europe. According to Jackson, the Moors pulled the Spaniards out of the Bleak Ages, 500-1000 A.D. in the Christian era, and gave them a level of civilization enjoyed by no other people in Europe at that time. Moorish contributions were made in such areas as agriculture, engineering, mining, architecture, commerce and education. The so-called Spanish motif in architecture one finds in the Southwest region of the United States is in fact a Moorish legacy passed from Spain to Mexico.

Blacks in antiquity did not confine their presence to regions west of the Atlantic. Readers who are curious about the presence of Africans in America before Columbus, and even before Christ, will profit from a reading of Ivan Van Sertima’s “They Came Before Columbus: the African Presence in Ancient America” (1976). Easily the most definitive work on African presence in ancient America, Van Sertima’s book adds an unexpected dimension to the study of black history that some believe is overly dominated by chronicles of American slavery and the slave trade.

Van Sertima said, “We have evidence of at least half a dozen visits by Africans to the New World before European contact. Some of these were planned and some of these were accidental.” The most significant of these visits “was between 948 and 680 years before the birth of Christ in the Gulf of Mexico.” Blacks came as Nubians from the 25th Dynasty of Egypt (751-656 B.C.) to the Olmec Heartland at a time when the Olmec civilization began to establish itself. They also came from the Mali Empire to Mexico in 1310 and 1311 under Emperor Abubakari II.

While an understanding of the downfall of pre-colonial Africa may be gathered from Chancellor Williams’ book, other works provide a detailed examination of colonial Africa. The primary purpose of colonial regimes in Africa was to make the continent’s natural and human resources available to emerging capitalist power systems of the West. These regimes pursued only that measure of political development necessary to realize this purpose.