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Day 23: Learn more about African history with the newest Henry Louis Gates project

28 Days of Black History

By Coshandra Dillard

Black American history doesn’t begin with slavery.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr, noted historian and professor, provides a new look from an African perspective at African history next week with the documentary Africa’s Great Civilizations.

The series, airing from 8 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday on PBS (KERA), is a “breathtaking and personal journey through history that includes evidence of the earliest human culture and art, arguably the world’s greatest ever civilizations, and some of the world’s earliest writing,” according to a press release.

Gates travels throughout Africa to discover the true majesty of its greatest civilizations and kingdoms. It’s critical, as the world still has misconceptions about the continent. Gates talked about this in his visit to ABC’s The View on Thursday.

“When it comes to Africa, what comes to mind, if you’re being honest?: poverty and flies, coups, disease,” he told the women. “No one thinks of Africa as the source of our common humanity.”

Perceptions of Africa were carefully crafted by tales that were acknowledged as historical facts.

“Why do we have these negative stereotypes of Africa? Two reasons: Slavery and colonialism,” Gates said. “And slavery and colonialism created fictions of Africa. They took the form, first of novels, and then films like Tarzan or Sheena Queen of the Jungle.”

Gates reminds us that Africa was the beginning of all civilization. He speaks of Ethiopia being the third country in the world, after Rome and Armenia, to adopt Christianity. He also notes that West Africa was home of Mali Empirer ruler Mansa Musa, the richest man in the world—   ever.


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