African-American historian, sociologist, psychologist, and proponent of equal rights Asa Hilliard was born in 1933 in Galveston, Texas. Attending the University of Denver for his Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees, Hilliard moved on to do incredible work in not only the African American community, but also the historical community as a whole with his observations on the true origins of ideas normally attributed to white, Western nations (Asa Hilliard, 2012).
Hilliard, while teaching at San Francisco State University, was a Peace Corps volunteer, spending an extended period of time in Liberia, where he was also the Superintendant of Schools in the capital of Monrovia (Asa Hilliard, 2012). This is very important when considering his controversial teachings that revolved around African pride–very important as a whole to the continent so frequently trodden upon.
Taking a job consulting to the Atlanta, Georgia school systems, Hilliard became a primary contributor to texts known as “The African American Baseline Essays”–perhaps one of the most prolific achievements of his career, and certainly extremely important when considering modern African-American culture as well as self-image (Bernstein, 2007).
One of the main ideas contained in “The African American Baseline Essays”, and an idea Hilliard would base much of his teachings off of, was the idea that Ancient Egypt, filled with black Africans from the continent, was in fact the true birth of the ideas that created the foundation for civilizations to come–an attribute normally credited to Rome and Greece (Bernstein, 2007).
This is a very important idea overall, considering both the American and African continents. Unfortunately, the African race has historically been looked upon as second-class, less intelligent, and especially less evolved than the nations built by, and inhabited by, whites. Hilliard worked tirelessly his entire career to correct overall education on these points in particular, consulting on textbooks and working with other historians to teach the correct facts (Bernstein, 2007).
One thing in particular that is normally credited to white societies is the science of astrology. Ancient Egyptians clearly had a very working understanding of astral bodies, their movement, and how to chart them. The Egyptians relied very heavily on the regular, seasonal flooding of the Nile River for their civilization to survive. One of the ways they kept track of the flooding–in order to use the nutrients the receding waters left behind for agriculture–was by mapping astral bodies. This clearly illustrates the understanding of astrology by the Ancient Egyptians, opening even more doors for exploration (Rowe, 1995).
It is to be assumed that if the Ancient Egyptians had knowledge of astrology, they must have also had the mathematics knowledge that went along with it. Charting anything involves at least simple mathematical calculations, further showing Hilliard’s point that African contributions to history are often skewed. However, much of Hilliard’s research as well as his ideas have been highly scrutinized. These critics cite Neolithic Europeans as the main proponent of Egyptian understanding of these things (Rowe, 1995). This is more racially motivated than anything–modern history is now continuing to illustrate African contribution to science, philosophy, and mathematics.
The Egyptian Pyramids themselves prove early African understanding of science and mathematics, as well as architecture. These large structures, though erected with the use of slave labor, were still the largest architectural projects of the day, and probably for centuries afterwards. Regardless of who put the manual labor in, there had to be a brilliant mind, or minds, that had advanced architectural understanding. To have this architectural understanding, they must also have understood principles of physics and mathematics to a very advanced degree. Modern historians and scientists are still baffled at how these structures were erected–nevertheless, they were erected, and by black Ancient Egyptians–long before the civilizations of Greece or Rome.
In addition, Hilliard’s theory seems to hold weight when considering the Ancient Phoenicians. This civilization, largely shrouded in historical mystery, was in fact of the most advanced of the Ancient world, and had origins in modern day Lebanon and Syria, also on the African Continent. Modern historians can now implicitly link Phoenician trade routes to as far as England and Ireland–and as early as 2000 BCE. There is also new evidence that this same civilization, dominating the trade routes of the Ancient world, actually made it as far as the Americas–not only proving Africans discovering America, but also illustrating even more extended knowledge of mathematics, as well as science (Phoenicians, 2004).
When Christopher Columbus set out for the Americas in 1492, he not only set sail from much closer than Syria or Lebanon, but almost 4000 years later he had the benefit of a more educated overall human species. If the Phoenicians set sail, they were using nothing besides their acquired sailing skills to navigate–again, heavily dependant on the stars. To be able to navigate using nothing besides the stars shows an even further understanding of mathematics and astrology than originally thought. This would imply knowledge of not only the stars, but the curvature of the Earth as well–a fact well argued in Greek and Roman society. This almost proves that it was in fact ancient African societies that laid the foundation of civilizations later (Phoenicians, 2004).
Hilliard claims, with great merit, that whites took these African ideals and rebranded them as their own, with their origins getting lost in history. Another major criticism of Hilliard’s idea is the “magical” undertones of Egyptian thought in particular, pointing at their reliance on astrology and polytheism as distinguishing factors. However, to even understand astrology the way the Egyptians and the Phoenicians clearly did requires skills in mathematics and understanding of physics–regardless of religious belief, the forward thinking of black Africans clearly laid the foundation for the more advanced civilizations to come.
Hilliard’s work is important from a historical perspective as discussed, but particularly from a sociological and psychological perspective. Traditionally, Africans have been taught that they were inherently subordinate to whites. The ideas carried and put forth by Asa Hilliard gives the black community in America, as well as the rest of the world real history they can be proud of, rather than nothing besides negative ideas. The overall thought process of the black community has been positively illustrated by Hilliard’s illustration of contributions of blacks to history as a whole.
Berstein, Adam. “Professor, Afrocentrism Proponent Asa Hilliard III.” The Washington Post, n.d. Web.
“Biography: Asa Hilliard.” Educationmakers, n.d. Web. <http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/asa-hilliard-39>.
Gore, Rick. “Phoenicians.” Phoenicians. National Geographic, n.d. Web.
Rowe, Walter. “School Daze.” Business.com, n.d. Web. <http://business.highbeam.com/5799/article-1G1-17450607/school-daze-critical- review-africanamerican-baseline>.