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Primary source material – James Africanus Beale Horton

Primary source material reproduced from James Africanus Beale Horton, West African Countries and Peoples: British and Native, with the Requirements Necessary for Establishing that Self Government Recommended by the Committee of the House of Commons, 1865: and a Vindication of the African Race, pp. 31-32, 40-46, 60-61.

In the 19th century, Edinburgh was famous as a leading centre in phrenology, the study of craniums, and thousands of skulls are still held by the university to this day. Many early black alumni – including James Africanus Beale Horton and Theophilus Scholes – however, wrote powerful critiques of the scientific racism and white supremacism which this collection helped justify.

I must say a few words on some grave errors in generalization which men of science with restricted observation have arrived at respecting the capacity of progression in the African race […David] Hume, in his Essay on Natural Characters, says that

There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion (negro), nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation…In Jamaica, indeed, they talk of one negro as a man of parts and learning, but it is likely he is admired for slender accomplishments, like a parrot who speaks a few words plainly.

A witty writer, the late Dr Knox, of Edinburgh, believes that the races of men, particularly the negro, as they were several centuries ago, still continue to be now; and that despite of Christian influences and other civilizing agencies bearing on their rude and savage character, they will still continue to be. […] To insist on the broad dogma that no changes have taken place in the races of men, or even animals, as far back as historical evidences can be traced, is to insist on what is opposed to nature; and none but the unreflecting can be carried away by such a sweeping doctrine […]

It is in the development of the most important organ of the body – the brain, and its investing parieties – that much stress has been laid to prove the simian or apelike character of the negro race […] The difference between the capacity of the negroes born in African and that of the average European cranial capacity, is only about 29.00 cubic centimetres […and] the great German philosopher, Tiederman, [has], by careful measurement, weighing and other investigation, proved that there exists no material difference between the brain of the white and black races. Besides Tiedman, Blumenbach, the great German physiologist, has contributed a vast deal of information towards establishing this fact. […]

In the examination of the world’s history, we are led forcibly to entertain the opinion that human affairs possess a gradual and progressive tendency to deterioration. Nations rise and fall; the once flourishing and civilized degenerate into a semi-barbarous state; and those who have lived in utter barbarism, after a lapse of time become the standing nation […] such being the tendency of all national greatness, the nations of Western African must live in the hope, that in the process of time their turn will come, when they will occupy a prominent position in the world’s history, and when they will command a voice in the council of nations.

  1865  /  1860 - 1900  /  Last Updated March 29, 2019 by uncoveredproject  /