From Slavery to Freedom

by John Hope Franklin

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Analyze chapter 1 in From Slavery to Freedom.

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Chapter 1 of From Slavery to Freedom describes an early history of the African continent. It covers topics like ecological diversity, indigenous African commercial networks, and what African slavery was like before European involvement. It provides examples of early African political units, such as Ghana’s trading empire, and highlights the importance of regions like the Swahili Coast as centers of international exchange. Overall, the chapter deconstructs and corrects pre-twentieth century histories that overlooked the accomplishments of early African societies.

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At the start of the chapter, the author explains that before the mid-1900s, Africa was called “The Dark Continent” (Franklin 2). This was a phrase created by Europeans to construct a social view of Africa as a mysterious, "savage" place. In reality, European elites had extensive knowledge about the rich...

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natural resources and cultural developments occurring on the continent. Keeping the public in the dark about African accomplishments allowed Europe to justify its exploitation of the African people.

But in the mid-twentieth century, scholars began to study and share the real history of Africa. For example, the author writes how in 1974 it was discovered that “Africa is the continent from which humankind arose more than three million years ago” (2). Important social developments such as commerce, copper working, and state formation were also discovered to have developed from indigenous groups in Africa (2). This history deconstructs misconceptions about Africa that have historically been used to justify racist ideologies. The author continues this process of deconstruction with his detail in this chapter.

The chapter begins by going into detail about the earliest people to live on the African continent. It discusses their languages, beliefs, and social systems. For example, the author highlights how archaeological discoveries in northern Nigeria revealed that indigenous African civilizations practiced iron-smelting. This refutes historical claims that “iron-smelting was introduced to Africa from an external, non-black civilization” (3). The chapter goes on to highlight fascinating artistic achievements of indigenous African people such as Nok works, as well as their advanced commercial networks. Overall, this chapter stresses that indigenous African societies were incredibly advanced and self-sufficient. It refutes myths that Europeans brought technology and political ideologies to Africa—myths used to create a Western image of Africans as inferior.

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