Africans before slavery

Every black history month, students all across the United States read and listen to stories of the most notable African-Americans. Like Harriet Tubman, who worked against slave laws to bring people to freedom, those who became educated despite laws to prevent their education and worked with abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass, who convinced Abraham Lincoln* to allow black men to fight, thereby bringing about a turn in the Civil War to the advantage of the Union, and those who–after years of struggle–fought against oppression and Jim Crow laws during the Civil Rights movement like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Claudette Colvin. African American history, it seems, begins with injustice and continues with struggle. People were stolen, sold into slavery, brought to the Americas, and have been defined by these events ever since. But who were those people before they were enslaved?

250px-ibn_soriThey were royalty.

Abdul Rahman Ibrahima was an African prince, who was sold into slavery and obtained his freedom after forty years. He returned to his native Timbuktu, only to die shortly after. You can read about him here or here. There’s also a book and movie.

Sahle Selassie ruled the Kingdom of Shewa, Ethiopia. He was the great-grandfather of Haile Selassie I. Find out about him here and more about the Amhara people he ruled.

They were the founders of the earliest civilizations.


Detail from the “Catalan Atlas” from the Royal Geographic Society.

Of course, I’m talking about Kemet, more commonly known as Egypt. Ancient Egypt was home to archaeological wonders, had the world’s first navy, and surprisingly good medical practices. You can find out more about them in this book.


The African continent is vast, and there are many people still learning what ancient Africans were like. Somali archaeologist Sada Mire is working to uncover more about ancient African history.

They had some of the earliest written languages.

250,000 manuscripts still survive at the library at Timbuktu, some of which date back to the 8th century.

They were artists.


9th century bronze Igbo staff head.


12th century A.D. Yoruba bronze head sculpture.


And this is only the tip of the horn, as it were. Africa is a vast continent, the cradle of human life. The history of Africans began long before slavery and will continue long after. Slavery was African history interrupted.

In response to the president’s remarks yesterday at a Black History Month breakfast, a few wise authors I know put together a teacher’s guide to help students rewrite the president’s speech. You can find it on Linda Urban’s blog with links to reliable sources on African American history, as well as a few on the history of Africans before history. I’ll also add this prezi, which has an interactive map that tells about Africa and African history before slavery.

*While many people credit Lincoln with abolishing slavery, it’s important to understand the full story. He was not, at first, pro-abolition. This link explains Lincoln’s position on slavery, abolition, and equality.


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