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3) The title of my proposed research is Ontological Arguments of 19th Century African American Intellectuals in the Context of Ethnological Conflict. More specifically, As a means to explore the effects of 19th Century racist ideologies companioned with the scientific basis of racial differences, the area of focus for my research will be geared toward African American thinkers of the first quarter to the latter part of the nineteenth century (1829-1879), namely David Walker and Martin Robinson Delany; their contribution to Black ethnology as well as their views of ancient Africa, namely Nile Valley civilizations (e.g. ancient Egypt otherwise known as Kemet) and how that treatment conceptualized their identity, political implications, social and racial ideas.
As used in this study, “ethnology” refers to a science that deals with the division of human beings into races and their origin, distribution, relations, and characteristics. Simply put, ethnology is the science that analyzes and compares human cultures (i.e. cultural anthropology). The term “ontology” refers to a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence. The term “monogenesis” denotes a theory that all living organisms are descended from a single ancestor, cell or organism. Conversely, “polygenesis” refers to the derivation of a species or type from more than one ancestor or germ cell.
4) Within academia, particularly in African American Studies and in dealing with American racial thought, very little work has engaged those scholars among this group
who have used the ideas of Black racial thought in correlation with classical Africa as a foundation for their philosophies of history. Not only will this research institute a stronger foundation of these scholar’s social and political sensibilities, it establishes that African descendants in the United States wrote proficiently and with historical accuracy about white racial ideology in ways that substantiate the existence of an unbroken genealogy of major thinkers. Moreover, this study will propose to contribute to contemporary Africana intellectual history by engaging in a comparative qualitative analysis of texts designed to (1) examine the works of David Walker and Martin R. Delany, major thinkers of the nineteenth century, whose theory of an African-centered ethnology surfaced as a insurgent response to the rise of ideological and scientific racism; and (2) place their ideas in direct conversation with the racist views of white nineteenth-century intellectuals of the same time period: Samuel George Morton, George Robins Gliddon and Josiah Clark Nott. A review of these select representative sources captures the biracial history of American ideas about race theory during the antebellum period.
5) As well, the study will test the hypothesis that there seems as if the more racist ideologies were enforced and meshed into the social fabric in nineteenth-century America by the pretext of science, the further society saw a theoretical uprising by the Black intelligentsia, especially during the time frame of 1829-1879. In contrast, the study will not attempt to be exhaustive of all writers in this vein; nor will it explore the works of those Africans writing in languages other than English or from regions other than the United States of America.
6) The general literature review that pertains to my research topic addresses David Walker’s and Martin Delany’s religious and philosophical approach to ethnology and how they attempted to engage and refute contemporary ontological discussions of ethnicity and race to conceptualize identity, politics and social change.
7) In defending their ethnological arguments, David Walker and Martin Delany were speaking to two audiences: 1) The Supporting Audience – those African-American intellectuals in the on-going struggle for human equality: Maria W. Stewart, John Rock, James McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnett, Hosea Easton, William Wells Brown, Alexander Crummel, to name a few.
2) The Audience of Opposition – the white intelligentsia who upheld the (scientific) notions of Black inferiority: Samuel George Morton (craniologist), George Robins Gliddon (Egyptologist), Josiah Clark Nott (Mobile physician), Samuel A. Cartwright( proslavery Louisiana physician), John H. Van Evrie, George S. Sawyer, John C. Calhoun (Senator from South Carolina), Louis Agassiz (Swiss émigré; Harvard Professor), Charles Caldwell (North Carolinian physician) and Richard Colfax
To get a feel for the discourse between the two intellectual camps, let us take a look at the scholar’s position and the surrounding theories on ethnology:
The dominant authority in the field of “American ethnology” prior to the nineteenthcentury was Samuel Stanhope Smith. His publication, Essay on the Causes of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species, “presented a vigorous defense of monogenesis”; however, Smith firmly “believed that the white race was the superior race, the original human norm from which other races had degenerated.” David Walker The prodigious efforts on behalf of John Russwurm (and the lack of shaking the racist mentality by white allies) to confront racist views paved the way for the emergence of one of the most widely-cited publications of antislavery literature — David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. This major exposition had predated the national antislavery movement also known as the Abolitionist Movement. In establishing itself as an intellectual call to arms for the enslaved masses, the Appeal, Aptheker stressed, “simultaneously stimulated the forces that were to constitute that Movement”.
Inspired by Walker’s fiery abolitionist manifesto, in 1848 the revolutionary Reverend Henry Highland Garnett mentions that “the work is valuable, because it is among the first, and was actually the boldest and most direct appeal in behalf of freedom, which was made in the early part of the Anti-Slavery Reformation.”
Most important is the role the Appeal had on articulating an African-centered historical philosophy. Like Russwurm before him, Walker (1785-1830), a North
Carolinian by birth, a minister and an agent for Freedom's Journal, used the issue of the
ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians to place African people in an unbroken transmillennial dialogue on governance, morality and social relations.
As a tool of upliftment, Walker proclaimed in Article One of his Appeal that the Black race had ancestral ties to the once great civilization of Egypt. As it was not a traditional theme to make such allegations during this era, Walker saw such accusations a necessary move. In understanding the psychological hold that Christianity had on his people; and most likely being the first intellectual to make this historiographical bind to the land of the Nile, the author avowed: Some of my brethren do not know who Pharaoh and the Egyptians were—I know it to be a fact, that some of them take the Egyptians to have been a gang of devils, not knowing any better, and that they (Egyptians) having got possession of the Lord’s people, treated them nearly as cruel as Christian Americans do us, at the present day. For the information of such, I would only mention that the Egyptians, were Africans or coloured people, such as we are—some of them yellow and often dark—a mixture of Ethiopians and the natives of Egypt—about the same as you see the coloured people of the United States at the present day1.
In Article Two of his Appeal, Walker lays claim to the African origins of world civilization. In understanding the plight of ignorance bestowed upon his people, Walker unapologetically shines light on the subject matter: When we take a retrospective view of the arts and sciences—the wise legislators
David Walker, “One Continued Cry”, David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World 1829), ed. Herbert Aptheker (New York: Humanities Press, 1964), 69-70
the Pyramids, and other magnificent buildings—the turning of the channel of the river Nile, by the sons of Africa or of Ham, among whom learning originated, and was carried thence into Greece, where it was improved upon and refined, Thence among the Romans, and all over the then enlightened parts of the world, and it has been enlightening the dark and benighted minds of men from then, down to this day. I say, when I view retrospectively, the renown of that once mighty people, the children of our great progenitor I am indeed cheered.
Simply put, Carr avows that “Walker’s sophisticated read of classical history accomplishes two aims. First, it allows Walker to re-link Egyptian history to a broader African historical narrative which links contemporary Africans to classical Africa and second, it explains their current plight in terms of a broader, universal theme of fall and redemption.”
In adhering to the tenets of monogenesis, Walker, despite his training in Protestant traditions, utilized biblical scriptures to articulate a spiritual worldview; a worldview in which Africans would escape an apocalyptic future as a result of an inherent spirituality which predated Christianity. Just as Russwurm had effortlessly written, Walker held that the African race descended from Ham and that all races (including Caucasians) were of one blood. “Man in all ages and all nations of the earth, is the same, Walker declared, outraged that anyone could think otherwise. See the inconsistency of the assertions of those wretches, he wrote of white Americans”2. While making the connection with
David Walker, “One Continued Cry”, David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World 1829), ed. Herbert Aptheker (New York: Humanities Press, 1964), 126.
Blacks to the scriptural figurehead, in no way did Walker accept the infamous “Curse of Ham” myth that was held so prevalent among white Southerners. The Audience of Opposition The questions about the origins and ancestry of the black race that John Russwurm addressed in his Freedom Journal series from 1827 to 1829 and David Walker in his Appeal were soon to be neatly resolved in the minds of proslavery apologists by the theory of polygenesis, the doctrine of separate creations. According to this theory, black people were created separately from white people. Mia Bay points out that Black were not even considered the descendants of Adam and Eve and had no place in the Bible, “and they appeared in Egypt only as servants of a fair-skinned ruling race.”
Fredrickson states that, “the [American] South’s first important exposure to view that the black man was a member of a separate and permanently inferior species” (polygenesis) came from Frenchman émigré J.H. Guenebault, who wrote Natural History of the Negro Race in 1837 in Charleston, South Carolina.
On this point, Robert J.C. Young argues that “the renowned racism of [French scientist] Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), combined with the cultural assumptions of the ‘transcendental anatomy’ of Geoffroy St-Hilaire, seems to have set the tone for comparative anatomists, craniologists and phrenologists, who thereafter blended scientific observations of physical differences with cultural assumptions about white superiority.” In addition, Fredrickson contends that he new doctrine of polygenesis would not
become an accepted view in scientific and intellectual circles until the 1840s and 1850s, when the pioneers of what came to be known as the “American school of ethnology” published a series of works arguing for the separate origins of the races.
In his book The Leopard’s Spots, William Stanton asserts that, “the originator of the new scientific ethnology was Dr. Samuel George Morton of Philadelphia, who published a book [Crania Americana] in 1839 that promised to bring an end to loose speculation about racial origins and differences by opening an era of hardheaded empiricism.”
Shortly thereafter, Morton joined forces with Gliddon (an Englishman by birth), an Egyptologist, who provided him with mummy heads and information about racial significance of Egyptian tomb inscriptions, which eventually led to his seminal work, Crania Aegyptiaca, published in 1844. “In Crania Aegyptiaca, Morton pointed out that both cranial and archeological evidence showed that the Egyptians were not Negroes—as abolitionists and colonizationists had maintained— and that in fact blacks had [been] relegated to the same servile position in ancient Egypt as in modern America.”
Fredrickson avows that, “Morton’s assertion of the polygenesis of the races was vigorously supported by Dr. Josiah Clark Nott of Mobile Alabama (the centre of the slave trade in that state). Joining Morton and Gliddon, Nott completed the scientific triumvirate which attempted to convince educated Americans that the Negro was not a blood brother to the whites.”
The most fervent of the scientific apologists for the American system of racial subordination, said Fredrickson, “was Nott, who became the leading exponent of the new ethnology after the death of Morton. In an act of gloating, Nott “confessed that his interests were not so much in races in general as in the Negro in particular and implied that some of his evidence for plural origins was designed to attract attention and add support to a priori assumption of innate Negro inferiority.” At the expense of the AfricanAmerican community, Nott boastfully asserts, “the Negro question was one I wished to bring out and [I] embalmed it in Egyptian ethnography, etc., to excite a little more interest.” This field of study Nott liked to call “the nigger business” or “niggerology”.
In December of 1850, Nott presented a lecture before the Southern Rights Association in Mobile, Alabama on the Natural History of Mankind, Viewed in Connection with Slavery. In this anti-abolitionist speech, “Nott emphasized the ethnological evidence of Negro inferiority and incapacity for civilization.” He avowed that the Negroes “had risen but little above the beasts of the field.” In fact, he declared that “no pure blooded Negro had ever risen above the grade of mediocrity in the white.”
Nott’s theory of what ethnology had revealed was not limited to its justification of Negro slavery. In his work (co-edited along with Gliddon) Types of Mankind (1854), Nott describes the Caucasian as having “in all ages been the rulers; their destiny therefore is to conquer and hold every foot of the globe where climate does not interpose an impenetrable barrier. He went on to proclaim that, “no philanthropy, no legislation, no
missionary labors can change this law; it is written in man’s nature by the hand of the creator.” As for the “inferior races,” they would serve their purposes and become extinct. Martin Delany Akin to Walker’s inflammatory views towards American bigotry, Martin Robinson Delany (1812-1883) was also a stalwart foe of contemporary racist ideology. Unlike his fellow constituents, Delany came to the ethnological battlefield with some scientific training. Early in his manhood, “he apprenticed as a doctor in Pittsburgh and then enrolled in Harvard Medical School. Beyond his control, “his medical career ended abruptly after one semester, when he was forced out of Harvard by angry white students bent on preserving the school’s color barrier.
According to Bay, Delany was intrigued in racial differences and was convinced that black and white people were quite distinct. Thus, he made the clear distinction between African culture and European culture in his writings. She goes on the state that “he never questioned the central tenet of nineteenth-century black ethnology—that ‘God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the face of the earth’. Nor did he challenge the environmentalist orthodoxy in black thought.”
Delany lamented, “we regret the necessity of stating the fact—but duty compels us to the task—that, for more than two thousand years, the determined aim of the whites has been to crush the colored races wherever found. With a determined will they have sought and pursued them in every quarter of the globe. The Anglo-Saxon has taken the lead in this work of universal subjugation. But the Anglo-American stands pre-eminent
for deeds of injustice and acts of oppression, unparalleled perhaps in the annals of modern history.”
He affirmed that “the Singular and Plural theories [monogenesis and polygenesis] of the Creation or Origin of Man, have been fully examined and duly considered, accepting the Mosaic or Bible Record, as our basis, without an allusion to the Development theory.”
He points out: “The theory of Champollion, [Josiah Clark] Nott, [George] Gliddon, and others, of the Three Creations of Man; one Black, the second Yellow, and the last White, we discard, and shall not combat as a theory, only as it shall be refuted in the general deductions of this treatise. We have named these Three Races, in the order which they are said to have been created, the Black being first, consequently the oldest of the Human Family.”
Unremorsefully, Delany avouched, “in treating on the Unity of Races as descended from one parentage, we shall make no apology for a liberal use of Creation as learned from the Bible. In this, we find abundant proof to sustain the position in favor of the Unity of the Human Race. Upon this subject ethnologists and able historians frequently seem to be at sea, without chart or compass, with disabled helm, floating on the bosom of chance, hoping to touch some point of safety; but with trusty helm and well-set compass, we have no fears with regard to a direct and speedy arrival, into the haven.”
He disputed that, “he who is alone the Author and Creator of all things, ‘does not by separate acts of creation give being and life to those creatures which are to be brought forth, but employs His living creatures thus to give effect to His will and pleasure, and as His agents to be the means of communicating life’. The same language might be applied without the alteration of a word, to the origins of species, if it were indeed true, that new kinds as well as new individuals were created by being born.”
As well, Delany makes a sound argument in terms of race. He maintains that “these different complexions in the people, at that early period, when races were unknown, would have no more been noticed as a mark of distinction, than the variation in the color of the hair of those that are white, mark them among themselves as distinct peoples.”
He firmly believed that “to determine the race representatives of the Egyptian gods, will go far toward deciding the disputed questions as to who were the first inhabitants of Egypt and builders of the pyramids, catacombs and sphinxes.”
Delany goes on to articulate: “And if every other evidence in archaeology had failed to establish the identity of the Ethiopian of the Negro race, with that of the original Egyptian in his highest civilization, there is yet one which has never been destroyed nor defaced, but, like the ‘everlasting pyramids,’ has stood through all time to the present, silently, though most eloquently, pleading the identity of the African race of the Negro
type with that of the original inhabitants of the upper and lower Nile, known as Ethiopia and Egypt.”
In essence, Martin Delany exposed, as he so bluntly puts is “the errors of prominent American Egyptologist George Gliddon, who makes all ancient black men white.”
In an attempt to combat the artificial notion that Greece gave rise to Western civilization, Delany retorts: Was it not Africa that gave birth to Euclid, the master geometrician of the world? And was it not in consequence of a twenty-five years’ residence in Africa that the great Pythagoras was enable to discover that the key problem in geometry—the forty-seventh problem of Euclid—without which Masonry would be incomplete? Must I hesitate to tell the world—Eureka—was first explained in Africa?
Jacob Carruthers asserts that Delany focused on the issue of the qualitative differences between African Deep Thought and European philosophy, although the Europeans borrowed a great deal from the Africans. Delany identified the thought of Africa as centered in theology as opposed to secular oriented Greek thought. On this idea, he stated: And the inquiry naturally presents itself: How do Africans of the present day compare in morals and social polity with those of ancient times? We answer, that those
south of the Sahara, uncontaminated by influence of the coast, especially the Yarubas [sic], are equal in susceptibility and moral integrity to the ancient Africans
Lastly, Carruthers declares that, Martin Delany argued that African people must develop their future worldview upon the foundation of the ancient and modern indigenous cultures. He also demonstrated the necessity of African [American] researchers translating Kemetic [Ancient Egyptian] texts for themselves.” Thus the practicing of African Deep Thought, including the reflecting on the thought of African antiquity, is an Indispensable aspect of the struggle for African liberation.
Research Design The study will be accomplished using a historical comparative approach because the methodology will incorporate a combination of close readings and a comparative qualitative analysis of selected theoretical texts of primary sources by the two African American scholars listed above in addition to secondary sources attendant to the uses of Black ethnology.
Implications of Future Research I will continue to do the work and examine more primary literature prior to and after the specific time period in order to get a further glimpse into what ethnological issues were prevalent, and more importantly, how and why Walker, Delany, and other Black thinkers were responding to these racist scientific ideologies. By extension, this research will
prove to be extremely beneficial in the sense that it will provide much needed information as to the foundation of many racist views that plague our society today.
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