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The History the Slaveholders Wanted Us to Forget | By Henry Louis Gates, J. FEB. 4, 2017
Black History Month
in 1965, the distinguished British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper argued
against the idea that black people in Africa had their own history:
“There is only the history of the Europeans in Africa,” he declared.
“The rest is largely darkness.” History, he continued, “is essentially a
form of movement, and purposive movement too,” which in his view
was echoing an idea that goes back at least to the early 19th century.
But it wasn’t always this way. When the young Prince Cosimo de Medici
(1590-1621) was being tutored to become the Duke of Tuscany — about the
time that Shakespeare was writing “Hamlet” — he was asked to memorize a
“summary of world leaders” that included Álvaro II, the King of Kongo, along with the Mutapa Empire and the mythical “Prester John” of Ethiopia. Soon, however, even that level of knowledge about African history would be rare.
it shouldn’t surprise us that ideas about Africans and their supposed
lack of history and culture were used to justify the enslavement of
millions of Africans throughout the New World, especially during the
19th century when sugar production was reaching a zenith in Cuba and
cotton was making growers and manufacturers rich. What is surprising is
that these ideas persisted well into the 20th century, among white and
black Americans alike.