“Africa is no historical part of the world,” wrote Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the nineteenth century. Blacks, he thought, had no “sense of personality; their spirit sleeps, remains sunk in itself, makes no advance, and thus parallels the compact, undifferentiated mass of the African continent.” In short, Africans were a people without history. The World Historical Spirit that moved history forward never breathed over the continent.
"We all got history . . . It's there. You just got to look for it," said Ellen L. Hazard, descendant of a friend of Amos Webber, a free black Union Army veteran, churchman, political activist, and fraternal order member in mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts (and a personage recovered in 1996 by historian Nick Salvatore; see the link above).
Webber and his family and friends (and his descendants) knew that they lived through some of the most dramatic and revolutionary events of nineteenth-century history: the Civil War and Reconstruction. Black Americans were not just a people with history; they practically embodied American history.
With honorable exceptions, white Americans from the Revolution to the early twentieth century were Hegelians at least in terms of their relegating of Africans and African Americans to the historical dustbin. Black Americans like Amos Webber knew otherwise. And so did the legion of authors, intellectuals, philosophers, poets, schoolteachers, journalists, and sociologists, both educated and self-taught, which Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp discusses with consummate skill in her new (and long-awaited book) Setting Down the Sacred Past: African American Race Histories.
I'll have much more to say about this important work later in the summer when I have the chance to review it fully for Books and Culture. I'll save the full-length review for that venue. For now, here's a bit more from the book's website:
Setting Down the Sacred Past: African American Race Histories.