Few black men have accrued such prominent reputations in the history of black nationalism as Edward Wilmot Blyden. Born free in 1832 on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, Blyden traveled extensively in North America, Africa, and the Arab world. A prolific writer, politician, spokesman, and teacher, Blyden made his home in Liberia, and lived and worked at the highest levels of local and national government, holding a professorship while all his life working as a writer, activist, and politician. Blyden frequently saw himself as a self-appointed messiah for African peoples all across the black diaspora, and wrote voluminously of his beliefs regarding the history, nature, and capabilities of the citizens of the black Atlantic.
Blyden is probably best known for his brand of what is sometimes called “vindicationist” black nationalism: for him, Africa was the cradle of all civilization, and Egypt was its crowning achievement. A firm believer in the upward progress of history – and of Africans’ forcible removal from their place in it – Blyden was a fierce defender of what he considered to be the innate noble qualities of black Africans. This selection is one of his more concise and representative: written as a travelogue from Alexandra, Egypt across the Holy Land, Blyden draws a picture of black achievement which centers on the Great Pyramids. The monumental achievements of the ancient Egyptians as represented by the pyramids are for Blyden clear-cut examples of the great works done by black Africans in ancient times, and Blyden sees his journey as a form of reclaiming a past stolen from them. Pan-Africanism, Afrocentrism, black nationalism: the overlapping histories that these terms represent, at some point or another, all include Edward Wilmot Blyden.
ALEXANDRIA AND CAIRO
On the 10th of July, at 7 a.m., we anchored in the harbour of
Alexandria. I now had before me the renowned land of Egypt.
How shall I describe the emotions with which the first sight of
this ancient country inspired me? How shall I select and reproduce
in an order intelligible to others the thoughts which, in rapid
succession, passed through my mind?
I was prepared to find a large harbour, but was greatly surprised
at the presence of so large a number of vessels from nearly all
parts of the world, and of three or four splendid steam corvettes
belonging to the Egyptian government.
I saw in the distance the site of the ancient Pharaohs, the first
great lighthouse constructed in the Mediterranean, and one of the
seven wonders of the world. Immediately before me lay the city
built by Alexander the Great. What a various history, political,
social and religious, has it passed through! When Alexander
boasted that he would here build an emporium of commerce that
would surpass Tyre, which he had destroyed, and attract the
shipping of the world, he little dreamed that the day would come
when the most important operations carried on in this city would
be by vessels from powerful nations of the west; some of them
inhabiting countries then unknown to maritime enterprise. The
history of Alexandria since his death has more than realized the
dream of the world's conqueror.