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African AthenaNew Agendas$
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Daniel Orrells, Gurminder K. Bhambra, and Tessa Roynon

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199595006

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199595006.001.0001

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Black Minerva

Black Minerva

Antiquity in Antebellum African American History

(p.71) 4 Black Minerva
African Athena

Margaret Malamud

Oxford University Press

This chapter investigates the rhetorical use black and white abolitionists made of antiquity in arguments against slavery. Egypt, they argued, was the source of Greco‐Roman civilizations and American black people were the descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Black and white abolitionists pointed to the glories of ancient Egypt, Ethiopia and Carthage and their influences on Greek and Roman culture as proof that black people were not racially inferior to white people and therefore, contrary to common views, neither were they incapable of emulating and adopting white civilization. The underlying argument in all of these works, I suggest, was that if the venerable ancient civilizations of Africa were the achievement of the black race, as Frederick Douglass and others argued, it followed that African Americans were not inferior by nature to white people.

Keywords:   rhetoric, abolition, slavery, Egypt, Carthage, Frederick Douglass, African Americans, Greco‐Roman civilization, antiquity, Africa

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