many focus on africa, but the accomplishments of black americans produced more wealth than the pharaohs

July 3, 2018
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By Nick Douglas*, AFROPUNK contributor 

Unlike many black Americans, I can trace some of my ancestors back to Africa. I know their names, when and where they came from, and facts about their lives.

They came, like most African-Americans, from the West Coast of Africa. My 7th great-grandmother Nanette was kidnapped when she was ten from what today is the nation of Senegal. She was taken to New Orleans and sold into slavery. In the 1720s, my 6th great-grandmother Marie was also taken from Senegal as a young girl. Marie was transported to another French colony, known today as Haiti.

More importantly, I know what my African ancestors did here in America. They created their own American history.

My great-grandmother Nanette bought her freedom in 1763.  One of her great-granddaughters, Henriette Delille, has been generated by the Vatican. Born in 1812, Delille was a fervent abolitionist who founded a Catholic order of free women of color and established a school for black orphans and a home for aged slave women—the first old-age home in the U.S. One of Nanette’s great-grandsons, Paul Trevigne, was a newspaper editor, educator, anti-slavery activist and Union soldier. In 1864 Trevigne was one of New Orleans’ 1,000 leading men of color who petitioned Lincoln for black suffrage. This petition was spearheaded by a committee chaired by Nelson Pavageau, a descendant of my great-grandmother Marie.

The accomplishments of my ancestors in America fill me with pride. (And documenting their achievements filled the pages of my book, Finding Octave.) I do not have to imagine or claim I am descended from African or Egyptian kings and queens. I know I am not.

We do have a psychic, ancestral and social connection to Africa and we always will. I always have been and will always be proud of my African heritage. We share a collective (but separate) history of colonial terrorism, slavery, and exploitation. But I am more proud of my black American heritage.

For black Americans to claim African achievement, and especially Egyptian achievement, as their own is just their fantasy. It is time to exchange fantasy for reality. Africa is bigger than China, India, the U.S. and Europe combined. Most black Americans have roots in West Africa, thousands of miles away from Egypt. The only connection that most black Americans have with Egypt is that their ancestors came from the same continent. Black Americans claiming credit for Egyptian achievements would be like Germans claiming credit for the Roman Colosseum.  Whether we like it or not, for the last 400 years black Americans have had little or no effect on African achievements.

Black Americans claiming African achievements diminished the achievements of Africans. Africans from Tunisia to South Africa have been fighting their own pitched battles against colonialism, slavery, and apartheid.  Their fights, victories, and achievement are theirs, and by claiming their achievements as our own, we shortchange them and ignore our achievements in America over the last 400 years. What we should do is fiercely claim our 400 years of achievements right here.

Our most monumental and important contribution to America and the world was our most controversial and painful: Cotton. Karl Marx put the value of cotton and slavery in simple economic terms: “Without slavery,p there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery that has given value to the [European] colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry.” Marx simply said that slavery was the engine for the entire Industrial Revolution.

Nearly two hundred years ago, a black man essential to sparking the abolitionist movement stated it clearly. In 1829 David Walker said, “America is more our country than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood, sweat and tears.”

Labor stolen from Black Americans in the U.S. created the entire modern industrial world we know today. Let that sink in for a moment.

Despite the labor stolen from us and the nearly 100 years of Jim Crow and discrimination that continues even today, blacks in America generated wealth that has easily dwarfed that of all Egypt’s greatest ancient pharaohs. Today black Americans purchasing power sits at 1.3 Trillion dollars.

Black Americans have realized the U.S. is their country consciously and unconsciously for a very long time. In 1816 the American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed to help free people of color “emigrate” back to Africa. The ACS and the U.S. government bought land for the colonization in present-day Liberia. They offered to help pay for free people of color and former slaves to return to Africa. From the time that the ACS was formed in 1816 until it was dissolved in 1964 only 13,000 black Americans decided to leave. Of the 4.5 million black Americans (4 million slaves and 500,000 free people of color) in the U.S. in 1860 this is only .002% who decided to leave.

So, virtually no black Americans left the U.S. for Liberia, a country created especially for them. This simple statistic tells the story of the vast majority of the black Americans. They overwhelmingly believed their destiny was tied to the U.S., not Africa.

We need to start to fully claim America’s history as our own. We need to highlight the inventions, innovations and incredible art we have created here in the U.S. over the last 400 years. For example, a black American

  • Discovered how to perform blood transfusions and store blood in blood banks—Dr. Charles Drew
  • Helped discover the theory of crop rotation—George Washington Carver

A black American invented the

  • Carbon filament for the light bulb—Lewis Latimer
  • Artificial Heart Pacemaker control—Otis Boykin
  • Cataract Laser Probe (to remove cataracts)—Patricia Bath
  • Gas mask and traffic signal—Garrett Morgan
  • Imaging X-ray spectrometer—George Alcorn
  • Process of synthesis, allowing the creation of rare chemicals, leading to the development of birth control pills and cortisone—Percy Julian
  • Modern elevator design—Alexander Miles
  • Mechanical clothes dryer—George Sampson
  • Home security system—Marie Van Brittan Brown
  • Foil electric microphone (used in 90% of microphones, cell phones)—James Edward West
  • Video game console—Jerry Lawson

A black American invented

  • Peanut Butter—George Washington Carver
  • 3D movie graphics  —Mark Hannah (co-founder of Silicon Graphics, now SGI)

The achievements of black Americans in the arts have affected the whole world, including creating the art forms of jazz, R&B, rap, and Rock and Roll; writers like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, W.E.B. DuBois;  visual artists like Romare Beardon and Jean-Michel Basquiat are just a few of the names the world associates with black American achievement.

Black Americans have a proud history of defending this country from both domestic and foreign enemies. We led and won the historic fight against chattel slavery in the U.S. In addition to serving in the Civil War, black Americans fought and served bravely in pre-colonial militias, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and have served in every engagement since.

Of course, we have had the horrendous history of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation here in the U.S., but it was black Americans who introduced landmark lawsuits to challenge segregation, like Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board of Education. Black Americans spearheaded the fight for social justice and forced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We are now trying to end discrimination and social inequality. We will accomplish this too. Black Americans have always been at the forefront of making America live up to its Constitution and ideals. Black Americans continue to push the envelope of American democracy and always have.

Whether we like it or not black Americans are tied to American achievements or failures not African achievements or failures. Claiming any other country’s achievements or failures, not only sells the other country short, but undermines our own fabulous accomplishments here in America for the last 400 years.  As we celebrate another 4th of July let’s reclaim our suppressed history by telling our stories and making them a central part of the American historical lexicon.

*Nick Douglas is the author of Finding Octave: The Untold Story of Two Creole Families and Slavery in Louisiana and Reclaiming Black History: Finding Admirable Ancestors, a Wealth of Heroism and Traits that Shatter Defeatist Clichés. He can be contacted at: findingoctave.tumblr.com