• Janise

African plus American: From Medieval To Today


Edward Bulmer Lytton
Edward Bulmer Lytton

English author Edward Bulver-Lytton stated that “The pen is mightier than the sword,” meaning that written language and advocacy is a better way to communicate and to also achieve power than the use of violence. America has a history of promoting white supremacy and ideologies. This has affected the education of all people around the world for many years and it continues to be a struggle for African Americans to learn about the history of Black people all over the world. It is commonly assumed by many that the medieval times was dominated by people of Caucasian decent ignoring the entire presence of black people and Africans in medieval times. LaGarret J. King would agree that US education ignores and misrepresents black history (King, 2017). According to Matthew Vernon, even in history, early African Americans have fought for their representation in medieval times by writing letters, novels, and poetry that refers to accounts of the past. He supports the view that whites used stories of the middle ages to enhance their narratives of superiority whereas blacks used their stories of the middle ages to enhance their narratives of inclusiveness in their quest for freedom and empowerment. Many black people have accomplishments and stories that have been hidden and manipulated by white people like the movie Hidden Figures as an example.

Firstly, Vernon starts by bringing up the movie Black Panther. He explains that Black Panther’s story is more than just a movie. “Black people have been striving to remind the world for years that Africa is a continent, not a country. A continent made up of nations rich with histories and achievements in fields from the arts to mathematics. But such representation has seldom been portrayed by Hollywood.” (France, 2018). The relevant cultural worldwide impact of the Black Panther movie more than adds to the significance of how leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, freedom fighters such as Frederick Douglass, writers such as Charles Chesnutt, W.E.B. DuBois, and Dr. James McCune Smith used the power of storytelling to advance personal and cultural narratives linked to history in order to achieve their goals.

Charles Chesnutt
Charles Chesnutt

Vernon states that Charles Chesnutt in his novel “The House behind the Cedars,” mimics

Walters Scotts “Ivanhoe,” but that Chesnutt added an African American narrative to it about

the current black struggles of his time, black women trying to pass as white. “The House Behind the Cedars,” has an added plot to it about race struggles even with black women, subordination and romance. This relates to Black Panther because Ryan Coogler the co-writer also took the Marvel characters story and added the current struggles of the African diaspora and the problems they are experiencing now in keeping their cultural identity similar to the stories mentioned before. Black Panther and The House behind the Cedars are both stories that emerged from predominantly white literature of romance and medieval plots, with Marvel’s

characters being predominantly white today and during the period of The House Behind the

Cedars also being dominated by White authors during slavery.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

W.E.B. Dubois also used medieval plots and fashioned his story lines to resemble context that he was familiar with. Vernon explains that like Black Panther, the story Dark Princess written by W.E.B. Dubois had the plot of the story to represent his times and desires just like Black Panther had its plot about the African diaspora that can relate to the struggles that current African Americans are going through right now. Vernon states that “Dubois also seemed to enjoy creating genre fiction that featured characters with whom he could identify. Many fans of Black Panther surely understand the appeal of such a simple change.”


In 1803, Thomas Jefferson began a controversial process of Indian tribe removal
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson began a controversial process of Indian tribe removal

Vernon references a 1776 letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote where he boasts that Anglo-Saxon laws have made their race happy and that even abolishing the feudal system is enough to offer more support to white-Americans against the Native Americans. He wanted support but used a white/German history as a reason on why they needed extra military support. Thereafter, Vernon brought up the life of Frederick Bailey who changed his name to Frederick Douglass as a freeman to make a point that he can be as fierce as the medieval white Scottish Chieftain James Douglas, nicknamed black Douglas in Fredericks letter.


Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass

With a new name Frederick Douglass traveled to Britain to make his case for the abolition of slavery using Scottish medieval history to compare himself to and to make a point that he can be just like the past James Douglas and indicating that there was no difference in race when it comes to how people can be in their manners, including the ability to fight for dignity, respect, and freedom. The author Matthew Vernon was trying to say that Fredrick Douglass meant that he could understand these medieval characters better than his enslavers because he relates more to those times of the past then they did because James Douglas fought for freedom as well, as a white man. James Douglas has a similar story to Frederick Douglas, but Frederick did not use the story in the Anglo-Saxon way that Thomas Jefferson did.

James McCune Smith
James McCune Smith

Lastly, Vernon brings up abolitionist and physician James McCune Smith who made a statement that medieval Britain’s success did not only come from white people and that it came from many races working together, acknowledging black people’s presence in medieval Britain. He stated that Smith believed and advocated for an all-inclusive Britain threatening that the only way they will be successful is by having unity. He added that Cordelia Ray also related to this theme by writing Dante who was a character that was exiled while experiencing political problems which Vernon states relates directly to the African American struggles of that time. Finally, he mentions Robert Duncanson whose artwork was an inspiration from Scotland but whose work is almost fully forgotten which can be compared to the struggle which I mentioned above about Black people’s presence in history being over shadowed by white supremacy and the manipulation of education in this context.

King T'Challa
King T'Challa

The ending of Black Panther is where King T’Challa speaks at the UN and mentions that the people of Wakanda will no longer hide their successes, education and more. King T’Challa

states that “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges but the foolish build barriers,” with the

ending having a white man state “what does a nation of farmers have to offer the world?” This

ending compliments what Vernon was trying to say in this article. That Black people wrote and

fought to build bridges while the ignorance of white people including Thomas Jefferson tried to build barriers in the past and continue to do so now, similar to how Donald Trump is abusing

the media today. The resilience and perseverance of Black people using literature and story telling to connect themselves and add themselves to the truth about Medieval history is prominent and is still going on today. More movies and education about African American and African history are being revealed as the borders thin between white privilege and as white supremacy becomes less tolerated as they (white people) are currently becoming the minority.


References

France, Lisa Respers. More than a Movie, 'Black Panther' Is a Movement. CNN, 16 Feb. 2018,

https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/15/entertainment/black-panther-moviemovement/index.html


King, L. J. "The Status of Black History in U.S. Schools and Society." Social Education, vol. 81, no. 1, 2017, pp. 14. https://www.socialstudies.org/system/files/publications/articles/se_810117014.pdf


Vernon, Matthew. “Whose Middle Ages? Remembering Early African-American Efforts to Claim

the Past.” ThePublicmedievalist, 23 Oct. 2018, https://www.publicmedievalist.com/whosemiddle-ages/