Africa and its people are the most written about and the least understood of all the world’s people. This condition started in the 15th and 16th centuries with the beginning of the slave trade and the colonial system.
Europeans not only colonized most of the world, they began to colonize information about the world and its people. In order to do this, they had to forget, or pretend to forget, all they had previously known about Africans. They were not meeting them for the first time; there had been another meeting during Greek and Roman times. At that time they complimented each other. The African, Clitus Niger, King of Bactria, was also a Cavalry Commander for Alexander the Great. Most of the Greeks’ thinking was influenced by this contact with the Africans.
According to most records, old and new, Africans are the oldest people on the face of the earth. The people now called Africans not only influenced the Greeks and the Romans, they influenced the early world before there was a place called Europe. When the early Europeans first met Africans, at the crossroads of history, it was a respectful meeting and the Africans were not slaves. Their nations were old before Europe was born. In this period of history, what was to be later known as “Africa” was an unknown place to the people who would someday be called “Europeans.”
After the rise and decline of Greek civilization and the Roman destruction of the City of Carthage, they made the conquered territories into a province which they called Africa, a word derived from “afri,” and the name of a group of people about whom little is known. At first the word applied only to the Roman colonies in North Africa. There was a time when all dark-skinned people were called Ethiopians, for the Greeks referred to Africa as, “the land of the Burnt-Face People.”
If Africa, in general, is a man-made mystery, Egypt, in particular, is a bigger one. There has long been an attempt on the part of some European “scholars” to deny that Egypt was a part of Africa. To do this they had to ignore the great masterpieces on Egyptian history written by European writers, such as Ancient Egypt: Light of the World, Vol. I & II, that placed Egypt in proper focus in relationship to the rest of Africa.
The distorters of African history also had to ignore the fact that the people of the ancient land, which would later be called Egypt, never called their country by that name. It was called Ta-Merry, or Kampt and sometimes Fkemet or Sais. The ancient Hebrews called it Mizrain. Later the Moslem Arabs used the same term but later discarded it. Both the Greeks and the Romans referred to the country as the “Pearl of the Nile.” The Greeks gave it the simple name, Aegyptcus. Thus the word we know as Egypt is of Greek origin.
Until recent times, most Western scholars have been reluctant to call attention to the fact that the Nile River is 4,000 miles long. It starts in the south, in the heart of Africa, and flows to the north. It was the world’s first cultural highway. Thus Egypt was a composite of many African cultures.
Slavery and colonialism strained, but did not completely break, the cultural umbilical cord between the Africans in Africa and those who, by forced migration, now live in what is called the Western World.
A small group of African-American and Caribbean writers, teachers and preachers collectively developed the basis of what would be an African-consciousness movement over 100 years ago.
Egypt and the nations of the Nile Valley were, figuratively, the beating heart of Africa and the incubator for its greatness for more than a thousand years. Egypt gave birth to what later would become known as Western civilization, long before the greatness of Greece and Rome.
It is difficult for depressed African-Americans to know that they are a part of the larger story of the history of the world. The history of the modern world was made, in the main, by what was taken from African people. History, I have often said, is a clock that people use to tell their political time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography.
History tells a people where they have been and what they have been. It also tells a people where they are and what they are. Most importantly, history tells a people where they still must go and what they still must be. There is no way to go directly to the history of African-Americans without taking a broader view of African world history.
This, in essence, is what African-American history and what African-American History Month is about.
Activist-historian and author John Henrik Clarke, Ph.D., (1915–1998) lectured and held professorships at universities worldwide, and was an adviser to African and Caribbean heads of state. The above is an edited version of one of his lectures.