By Aaron Allen
There are two sayings, “America was built by the African slave and America was built on the backs of African Americans, and to some extent these statements hold true. But also, humanity was built on the creative and intellectual genius of Africans and their descendants as far back as antiquity.
Throughout the history or “story” of Africa and the African diaspora the eruditions and contributions to humanity have been “hidden” purposefully in the ongoing effort of Europe and her diaspora to maintain the falsehood of “white supremacy and control of the narrative.
Yet, scholars such as Dr. Al Black, a former African American Studies professor at the University of Washington, believes it is vital for the descendants of Africa to be in command of their own narrative.
“I think it is critically important that groups of people have the freedom and ability to tell their own history,” says Black. “People think that history is just a matter of recording facts, events, incidents and so on, but actually history is something that is obviously written by someone, or a group and it is written from their point of view.”
“When we talk about matters of race and we look at the difference in positions that we occupy racially versus the white race for example, clearly there are going to be different perspectives and it is absolutely crucial, therefore, that we make certain that our perspectives are heard and understood and we need to defend that with everything that is in us,” Black continued.
Within history there are a plethora of human experiences where Black people played an intricate role in the creation and development of life changing and societal altering inventions and discoveries. Efforts that have not been given the proper recognition for how they positively enhanced the lives of humanity.
“The contributions we have made to this country, to humankind, that history is extraordinarily important for obvious reasons,” says Black. “The kind of pride that our young people develop as a result of coming to know that we have made contributions and not only to the history of the United States but to the history of what we call “mankind” which is really “humankind” is very important.”
For example, in the early part of the 18th century Boston experienced a smallpox epidemic that for its time was devasting. Between April and December of 1721, there were 5,889 Bostonians who had smallpox and 844 who died of it. Smallpox caused more than three-quarters of all deaths that year.
As sickness swept through New England, an enslaved African known only as Onesimus suggested a potential way to keep people from getting sick.
The procedure Onesimus referred to consisted of rubbing pus from an infected person into an open wound on the arm. Once the infected material was introduced into the body, the person was inoculated against smallpox. It wasn’t a vaccination as we know today but it did activate the recipient’s immune response and protected against the disease most of the time.
Also, when it comes to heart surgery, we can again thank a Black person for furthering the development of medicine beyond its capabilities in that moment.
In 1941 Vivien Thomas — a Black man that was hired by a white doctor, Dr. Alfred Blalock to join his surgical staff — devised an operation to save “Blue Babies”, infants born with a heart defect that sends blood past their lungs. According to eyewitness accounts the fate of the baby was not in the hands of Dr. Blalock but in the instructions given to him by Thomas.
According to Denton Cooley, a Black medical student who arrived with Thomas in 1940 at John Hopkins, “it was Vivien who had worked it all out in the lab, in the canine heart, long before Dr. Blalock did Eileen, the first Blue Baby. Thomas stood on a stool overlooking Blalock’s work each step of the way.
Again, another example of Black African genius at work when all else fails. Life is easier for the human being because of countless unseen and unknowns, countless patents stolen or not afforded to Black innovators and inventors, and their inventions that we use on a daily basis and even take for granted. Creations that change the trajectory of human life, human expediency and human comfort and convenience.
Many of us were taught that the foundations of civilization were a product of Greek and Italian genius. However, history reveals that many of the greatest western thinkers and philosophers were taught and educated by Africans. Thales and Pythagoras were not the only Greeks to have been instructed by Kemet (modern day Egypt). Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates were all said to have been educated by Black Africans and their philosophy.
The watch on your wrist, the design and completion of Washington DC were things that were created and attributed to Benjamin Banneker. Every time you stop at a stoplight to avoid an accident, you can thank a Black man for the creation.
The reason you take an escalator and not the stairs is because of a Black man, Alexander Miles. The reason you have modern toilets and not an outhouse or a hole in the ground is because of a Black man, JB Rhodes. Paper, the alphabet, art, alchemy, mathematics, medicine, music, science, universities were all introduced by Black people.
Some of us are old enough to remember driving around town and relying on our own wits to not get lost until the Global Positioning System (GPS) was developed based on the brilliant mind of a Black woman. Gladys Mae West, born October 27, 1930, is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS).
It is becoming well-documented the deeper you dig, the darker history gets, that not only was humanity birthed in Africa, and with Africans being the first to circumnavigate the globe they were able to nurture, educate and help civilize all of humanity. There is not a civilization in the history of mankind where their foundation is not steeped with African biological and intellectual influence.
“Knowing our history and making certain that we teach our version of it is critical,” says Black. “We cannot allow anybody or any group to deny us this history. And we have to recognize that when Florida, Texas or any state or Governor in terms of Critical Race Theory deny us the right to teach our history to our children as well as their children, the fact of the matter is their racial group did the things that it did and they need to be aware of what that was so they won’t repeat what it is that they did.”
Today Africa and her diaspora battle for their place in history. As evidence mounts of the truth, it our responsibility to pass this vital knowledge to our children. As Marcus Garvey conveyed, “A people without knowledge of their history, is like a tree without roots.”