DR. CHANCELLOR WILLIAMS: Celebrating Our Glorious History(*)

By Petrie, Phil W. | Negro History Bulletin, July-December 1998 | Go to article overview

DR. CHANCELLOR WILLIAMS: Celebrating Our Glorious History(*)


Petrie, Phil W., Negro History Bulletin


He fell from the sky, wings flailing, tattered and dirty. An old man, an angel not fallen from grace but felled by sheer exhaustion. But he had known the glory of flight and, maybe, would fl/ again. No one really believed that, perhaps not even the old man himself. His only virtue was patience. When his value as a curiosity and moneymaker wore off, the townspeople laughed at him. Then one day he flapped his wings, clumsily at first, them lifted from the earth, rising higher and higher....

South American writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes about such a man in his short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" and, in doing so, creates a metaphor for freedom. Indeed, the Old Man might well symbolize the black light to freedom and independence. Like Garcia Marquez's Old Man, we are descended from very special people, and tike the Old Man, we have fallen, destined to rise again.

If not for men such as Chancellor Williams, a retired Howard University history professor, we might have lost forever the knowledge that civilization began with us. We built the pyramids, measured the stars and held back the desert. If not for men such as Williams, it would be forgotten that through Africa, Christianity became the world's primary religion; that Islam first came to play its role as conqueror and "civilizer" in Africa; that African men and women were a vital part of the ancient world-kings, queens and emperors who sent ambassadors to European nations and left their mark on all the countries of the world.

"We are descended from immoral men and women," Williams says. "But we've gotten off the track. We've become too dependent on the white man-and not just blacks in America but also those in Africa and the islands of the sea. The African race has become Caucasionized. Early in my career I wanted to study this in detail. I wanted to know what happened to us."

Williams says we were not always so dependent. Before the invasion of the African continent, black people strode across the firmament of history, blazing a path for others to follow.

There were heroes like Sundiata Keita, "the hungering lion," who took his place in history by establishing the Mall empire. Frail and sickly in his youth, Sundiata was an unlikely candidate for this honor. Ironically, it was his frailty that saved him. When Sundiata's father, the king of Mall, died, the ruler of the adjoining Sosso kingdom, Sumanguru, effectively took control of Mali. Sumanguru saw the sickly Sundiata as no threat to his rule and spared the young prince's life. But the youth grew stronger as he grew older and, as great people are known to do, overcame his handicap.

It was inevitable that Sumanguru and Sundiata would clash. In 1240 they met at the Battle of Krina. Sundiata's brilliance prevailed over the alleged magic of Sumanguru. The victory of Krina was the beginning of the Mall empire. Under Sundiata's rule, there was a systematic reorganization and consolidation of the former empire and an expansion of it.

Chancellor Williams has spent a lifetime searching for such greatness throughout history. Born in 1905, Williams grew up in the rural community of Bennettsville, S.C. At an early age, Williams was a child who wanted to know more, especially about the social positions of blacks at that time. In an earlier interview, Williams is quoted as saying: "I was very sensitive about the position of Black people in the town.... I wanted to know how you explain this great difference. How is it that we were in such tow circumstances as compared to the whites? And when they answered slavery' as the explanation, then I wanted to know where we came from."

It was this intellectual curiosity that ultimately led Williams to write the most popular of his eight books, The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D.... The book was first published in 1971 by Kendall Hunt, a white publishing firm, and won an award from the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1972. …

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