Black history as world history

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2006

February is Black History Month, and I’d be the first to admit I don’t feel qualified to write much on the subject.

I have a friend, however, who is an artist in Baldwin County – Booker T. Foster Jr.

Booker works in various artistic mediums, including sketches, paintings, and more recently, pottery.

What he attempts to convey in his artwork are depictions of blacks who made history. He is quick to point out that he does not believe in the concept of “black history.”

On the contrary, he believes that black history is actually world history. One of his concerns stems from the fact that when we talk about “black history,” often we are thinking about the past 100 years or so.

But, like world history, the history of blacks goes back thousands of years with a history we rarely talk about, or hear about.

Take for example recent scientific studies that reveal the original “Eve” was black.

In fact, there is scientific support for the idea that humans first lived in Africa, and populated the rest of the world by way of a coastal route through India, into southeast Asia and what is now Australia. The alternative view is that Northern Africa could have been a route, but either way, the origin of life could be placed in that region of the world.

Booker takes his history lesson back to the Moors, who once ruled much of western Europe. The Moors, in fact, were around about 300 years before the Romans conquered that part of the world.

Othello, the primary character of a tragedy by Shakespeare was the “Moor of Venice.”

There is the debate about Cleopatra, who was queen of ancient Egypt more than 30 years before the time of Christ.

Cleopatra was a descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian who was once a general for Alexander the Great. But there is a discrepancy about who Cleopatra’s mother was – and it was possible she was an Egyptian concubine.

Moving into more recent history, relatively speaking, Alexandre Dumas, the author of “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” among many other works, was the grandson of a slave.

Dumas’ father suffered as the result of being a mulatto – the product of a marriage between the Marquis Antoine-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie – a French dignitary – and Marie-Cesette Dumas, a black slave.

Talking with Booker over the years has opened my eyes as to how much all of our history is intertwined. In reality, you can’t tell the story of one race without it crossing the lines into another.

I have a friend from New England and we joke that she is the only “Wonder bread” white person I know.

Her ancestry is English and Irish – not that unusual for a New Englander and probably not that unusual for folks from the Appalachian mountains, whose ancestry is mostly Scottish and Irish.

But for most of us, the real story is more mixed. We are the product of

Native Americans, Irish, English, Germans, Italians, Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners – all types of ethnic groups.

I’m glad we recognize Black History, but I think it’s equally important we remember all of the different backgrounds that make up who we are today.

TAMMY LEYTHAM is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.