A Text Book of the Origin and History of the Colored People

Hartford: L. Skinner, 1841

African Americans have been constantly forced to document their own history. During slavery, white historians and European scientists waged a fierce battle to deny African Americans any claim to history, made sweeping generalizations about the “inferior nature” of the “negro” race. In the face of this racism, African Americans worked feverishly to write their own histories, and to recast the story of the black diaspora as one of ongoing pride, modern survival, and ancient achievement. In the context of American Egyptomania, this necessarily meant that the issue of ancient Egypt and its relationship to the rest of the African continent was a hotly contested one.

In the nineteenth century, there were several black historians who rose to prominence, but few were more famous than James W. C. Pennington. Born around 1809 on Maryland’s eastern shore, Pennington emanicipated himself from slavery in 1827 – becoming a fugitive slave – and relocated to New York City, where he became a minister and a leading figure in antislavery activism. Friend to fellow Maryland native Frederick Douglass, Pennington married Douglass and his first wife in 1838, published his autobiography, The Fugitive Blacksmith, in 1859, and was a prolific writer, speaker, and traveler until his death in 1870.

This selection is from Pennington’s 1841 A Text-Book of the Origin and History of the Colored People, and is one of the earliest attempts to write a comprehensive history of African Americans. It begins with the Bible, moves to the ancient world and then to the modern, and is filled with countless arguments against those who would claim that the history of “the colored people” is one of unending servitude, inherent savagery, or permanent inferiority. It is no accident, of course, that the early pages are concerned with the history of ancient Egypt, but the implications of Pennington’s claims about ancient Africans echo throughout the rest of his pages.



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A TEXT BOOK OF THE

ORIGIN AND HISTORY, &c. &c.

OF THE

COLORED PEOPLE.

BY JAMES W. C. PENNINGTON.

HARTFORD:

L. SKINNER, PRINTER.

1841.