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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Christina Proenza-Coles has written a remarkable book. It combines one of the oldest traditions in histories of people of African descent with the newest advances in scholarship. The combination is powerful.
American Founders, in the older tradition, establishes people in places where they have been excluded from our understanding. We are introduced to African conquistadores and gentlemen painted in striking portraits in Ecuador in 1599, to black landowners and settlers in Manhattan and Virginia, to African American scientists, writers, and political leaders in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The portrayals exert a powerful cumulative effect, giving faces and names and histories to people too often reduced to generalizations and abstractions, to passive roles in other people’s histories. In this way, Proenza-Coles sustains a proud and useful legacy.
Even as it draws on that older tradition, American Founders mines the last several decades of scholarship, in which the geographic and chronological range of history has expanded exponentially. By building on histories of the ancient world and the modern Atlantic world, Proenza-Coles shows that Africa and Africans helped shape global history at every turn. The continent and its peoples appear in the great dramas of world history, from war and conquest to music and literature.
The two perspectives in American Founders intersect with particular power in the history of United States. Proenza-Coles’s hemispheric vision reveals surprises for North American history, as when she points out that maroons established the first settlement on the continent in Georgia eighty years before Jamestown and that in Virginia the first legal case contesting the legal boundaries of permanent servitude was waged between an owner and an enslaved man, both of African ancestry.
Proenza-Coles focuses ever more intently on the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the cumulative force of her story lays a historical understanding for the black freedom struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. That moral revolution of the United States becomes comprehensible in a new way after reading American Founders, for we understand just how deep the roots extend into the history of the nation, the continent, the hemisphere, and the world.
Thanks to this book, we can see the largest patterns of history embodied in the lives of individuals with accomplishments born of their particular time in history. We see that American genealogies weave together, that the conventional divisions of history into racial and regional categories artificially separate our story. That perspective, at once broad and humane, is a rare gift.
Table of Contents
1 The Rise of Atlantic Slavery in a World Historical Context 3
2 Sixteenth-Century Afro-American Conquistadores 25
3 Seventeenth-Century Afro-American Colonials 53
4 Eighteenth-Century Afro-American Revolutionaries 87
5 Nineteenth-Century Afro-American Patriots and Liberators 147
6 Nineteenth-Century Afro-American Nationals 187
7 Twentieth-Century Afro-American Freedom Fighters 245
Conclusion: New World History 293
Appendix: Eighteenth-Century Uprisings for Freedom 298
Sources of Illustrations 330