Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievementby Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Profiled here are Peter Salem, the volunteer soldier who turned the tide at Bunker Hill; Joseph Cinque,
In this ideal introduction to black history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar examines the lives of heroic African Americans and offers their stories as inspiring examples for young people, who too rarely encounter positive black role models in history books or in the media.
Profiled here are Peter Salem, the volunteer soldier who turned the tide at Bunker Hill; Joseph Cinque, leader of a daring revolt on the slave ship Amistad; Frederick Douglass, self-taught writer-orator and escaped slave who forced President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation years ahead of schedule; Harriet Tubman, who led at least three hundred slaves to freedom; Lewis Latimer, whose scientific work was integral to the achievements of Bell and Edison; and many more.
Shining a bright light on the touchstones of character, these exemplary stories reemphasize the integral role of African Americans in weaving the fabric of our nation and form an empowering legacy from which Americans of all ages can draw inspiration, wisdom, and pride.
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Read an Excerpt
When you think of the great explorers, who comes to mind? Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Drake, Balboa, Coronado, de Soto, Ponce de León, Cortés. Maybe a few others.
No one thinks of Estevanico.
Yet Estevanico was one of a kind. He was the first black person mentioned by name in American history. The only black in the first party to cross the North American continent. The first non-Indian to discover the Old World Southwest. The first to set foot in Arizona and New Mexico. His courage and ingenuity opened the Southwest to civilization. So Estevanico wasn't just an explorer; he was a pioneer.
But bring up this subject and people look at you funny: "Black explorers? What are you talking about?" The idea of black people involved in the discovery of this continent is still shocking news to most white people. I can understand that; it was shocking news to me. Because, for the most part, history ignored it. Along with the amazing fact that black people were involved in virtually every European exploration of the Americas. The reality is:
- Between 1492-1503, blacks sailed with Columbus on all four of his voyages to the New World.
- In 1513, thirty blacks accompanied Balboa across the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) and to the summit of Sierra de Quarequa, where he discovered the Pacific Ocean.
- In 1519, three hundred blacks hauled Cortés's big cannons through Mexico and helped him defeat the Aztecs (Cortés insisted that Negroes were worth their weight in gold to expeditioners), including one African black who stayed behind to sow and reap the first wheat crop in NorthAmerica.
- Blacks were with Ponce de León in Florida.
- They helped Pizarro conquer the Incas in Peru.
- They marched with Coronado in New Mexico and de Soto in modern-day Alabama, where an African became the first Old World settler in the New World.
And there's more shocking news: Despite what mainstream history teaches us, even those Africans with the early explorers were not the first blacks on this continent. In 1975, incredible new archaeological evidence documented that blacks were present in Central, South, and North Americas, B.C. -- and that isn't just "before Columbus."
Before I ever heard of Estevanico, I was intrigued by the idea of an African presence in the Americas, preColumbus. In history class as a kid, we got very little about blacks, period, but I do remember being taught that the first blacks in the Americas came to Jamestown as slaves in 1619. That is still taught in schools today and it is totally false.
I did not find that out, though, until I started investigating the truth on my own. My first step was reading two books recommended by a friend: They Came Before Columbus and African Presence in Early America. Professor Ivan Van Sertima, a pioneer in linguistics and anthropology, wrote the first and edited the second. When I read them, I was so galvanized by the material that I started looking for someone to argue with. I tried to get people to say something ignorant that was generally assumed to be true, and then I referred to Van Sertima's books: "Did you know this? And this? And this?" They couldn't refute it: "Where did you get that? I never heard that before." The information hit them like revelations.
One reason is the continued presumption of white supremacy on this continent -- the belief that black people have no legitimacy here because they were brought over as slaves by superior cultures. African Americans have never escaped the stigma of inferiority perpetrated by this myth. And we know now that it is a myth. That's why it is so important for both blacks and whites to learn the truth: that black people were not only an early presence on the continent, they actually preceded whites by at least twenty-five hundred years. And those early visitors came freely, on their own.
To understand the full significance of this, we need to digress a little more. It has been documented that Stone Age negroid people were central to the development of the first civilizations in the Nile Valley. Also that negroids were most likely the first to paint human portraits on rocks, to use fire and tools, and to cultivate seeds and grains. Through twenty ancient Egyptian dynasties, at least 40 percent of the population was negroid, including many of the famous pharaohs, Queen Nefertiti, and, almost certainly, Cleopatra. For hundreds of years, black Ethiopians and Egyptians were regaled throughout the ancient world. And Africans, especially Egyptians, were not only not landlocked, they navigated the Atlantic well before Christ. The Phoenician navy had the boats and they used Egyptians -- who were mostly mulatto -- as sailors. Great historians, including Homer and Herodotus, spoke repeatedly of negroid cultures in the ancient world.
But blacks weren't just in ancient Africa, as we always thought. For example, pre-Columbian South American Indians were used to finding blacks living near them in small, isolated communities. They knew about the powerful equatorial currents that swept boats across the mid-Atlantic to the Americas-each year, they kept finding shipwrecks on their northern coasts.
King Don Juan of Portugal knew about these currents too. When he secretly conducted trade with the Guinea coast in West Africa, his mariners told him of lucrative African excursions on these currents for gold, silver, and spices in an unexplored world west and south-the South American continent. In his lust for power and wealth, Don Juan kept this information to himself. But after Columbus's Caribbean discoveries (present-day Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico), Don Juan wanted to prevent Spain from claiming more islands and also from discovering the southern continent.Black Profiles In Courage. Copyright © by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired from basketball in 1989. The author of bestsellers Giant Steps and Kareem: Reflections from Inside, he remains a devout Muslim and an active, articulate spokesperson for African-Americans.
Alan Steinberg is the author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller Behind the Mask and Black Profiles in Courage with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
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