Africans and The Making of the Americas: Part 1, Exploration

The greatest majority of the Africans of the diaspora are in the Western Hemisphere, scattered among the Spanish, French, and English-speaking countries of the Americas. The role played by the people of African descent in the building of America was not merely substantial, but indispensable, prompting, the historian Frank Tannenbaum, in his classic 1947 study Slave and Citizen. Describing the creation of contemporary American culture as a “joint Afro-European enterprise”.

Contrary to popular belief, African American history did not start with slavery in the New World. An overwhelming body of new evidence is emerging which proves that Africans had frequently sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas, thousands of years before Columbus and indeed before Christ. The great ancient civilizations of Egypt and West Africa traveled to the Americas, contributing immensely to early American civilization by importing the art of pyramid building, political systems and religious practices as well as mathematics, writing and a sophisticated calendar.

The strongest evidence of African presence in America before Columbus comes from the pen of Columbus himself. In 1920, a renowned American historian and linguist, Leo Weiner of Harvard University, in his book, Africa and the discovery of America, explained how Columbus noted in his journal that Native Americans had confirmed that “black skinned people had come from the south-east in boats, trading in gold-tipped spears.”


Africans traveled with some of the first European explorers of the Americas. Some even becoming famed explorers themselves. Although the Spanish Chronicles indicate that numerous Africans accompanied the Conquistadors on their expeditions throughout the Americas, many of their names have been lost to time and rarely recorded.  Among the exceptions was Esteban also known as Estevanico or Little Stephen. He was an African man from the interior of Africa, captured by North African slave traders and lived in Morocco before reaching Spain. Esteban was gifted at languages spoke more than a dozen Native American tongues.

 One of the first explorers of the Southwestern among other territories in the United States (outside of Native American people of course). His tales of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola led to the famous expedition of Francisco Coronado in 1540.

After being shipwrecked Estevanico and 3 other survivors lived on the Isle of Misfortune off the Texas coast as slaves but after a year escape to the mainland.

Estevanico was viewed as a medicine man by the Avavares tribe.

In 1536 Estevanico was given his freedom.

Coronado later discovered that the so called 7 cities of gold were actually Zuni pueblos that shone like gold when viewed from afar.

 Of the 44 settlers who founded pueblo of Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, at least 26 were of African descent. By the end of the 20th century, nearly 20% of California’s residents were Black. As our country started to move Westward, African Americans were the vanguard. People such as the African American trapper Peter Ranne (Member of first U.S party to reach California), Moses Harris (First non-Native American to explore the Great Salt Lake), legendary mountaineers like James Beckwourth, and Edward Rose (traveled much of what is now known as Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado). Beckwourth was also an adopted member of the Crow People who were located a pass through the Sierra Nevada and lead the first wagon train through it. The pass now bears his name. Of course there is much more to learn, think of this as a gateway.

Let us also not forget the original founder of the Americas; the Native people themselves.


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