JOHNSON: Columbus Day for who?

Dewayne Johnson

Many historians agree that there had been an African presence in the Americas centuries prior to Columbus. 

American historian Leo Weiner of Harvard University shared that Columbus noted in his journal the Native Americans confirmed dark-skinned people in boats, trading gold-tipped spears. Chemical analyses have shown that the ratio of properties of gold, copper and silver alloy was identical to the spears being forged in Guinea, West Africa at that time.

However, that is not what is being taught in school. In most cases, we still inappropriately acknowledge our fall breaks as a Columbus holiday, continuing to mislead people with the tradition of a European figure discovering the Americas.

It is also known that the West African Kingdom of Mali had huge fleets of merchant vessels and began sailing across the Atlantic as early as the year 900. Unlike the later European explorers to come, Africans did not set sail for conquest or invasion. 

These African explorers did so for trade. The gold from the Mali Kingdom and the bronze from the Benin Kingdom were traded for maize from the Mayans across the sea. 

The presence of stone heads with African features of the ancient Olmec civilization in South America, prior to the Aztecs and Mayans, is even more proof. Found throughout Central and South America, Olmec head statues range up to 11 feet in height and weigh up to 40 tons. 

These statues generally depict helmeted African men with large eyes, broad noses and full lips. The headpiece worn on these Olmec sculptures is related to a type of war helmet identified as connecting them to the Egyptian-region Nubians.

Pharaohs, Moors and Olmecs are just a few examples of a much larger and more empowering reflection of the African legacy in America that deserves its own standard K-12 education curriculum and proper recognition within our early education system.

Africans began coming to the Americas centuries before Columbus, and the evidence of their presence, though systematically ignored by the mainstream and K-12 education curriculum, is overwhelming and undeniable. 

It is only fair to say that Africa’s relationship with the Americas did not start as slaves but as sailors, explorers, and kings. Therefore, it is long overdue for our culture and the nation to be taught accordingly.

Dewayne Johnson is a resident of Valdosta.

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