Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 3: The Beginnings of Civilization

Books By Davidson
Davidson published more than 30 books, including: 
  • Old Africa Rediscovered (1959)
  • The Lost Cities of Africa (1960)
  • The African Slave Trade (1961)
  • Africa: History of a Continent (1966)
  • The Africans, An Entry to Cultural History (1961) 
  • The African Genius (1969) 
  • In the Eye Of The Storm: Angola's People (1972)
  • The People's Cause: A History of Guerrillas in Africa (1981)
  • Modern Africa (1982)
  • The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (1993)
  • The Search for Africa (1994) 
  • West Africa Before the Colonial Era (1998)

Class Overview

Basil Davidson, the radical journalist whose books introduced a mass audience to Africa's history, died on July 9 at the age of 95.

Davidson was a participant in, witness to, and chronicler of people's struggles against imperialism, fascism, and racism. He battled alongside partisans in Europe during World War II, traveled with guerrillas fighting for independence in Portuguese colonies, and campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. Davidson was a true scholar-activist who was as determined in the combat zone as he was behind a desk.

Born in Bristol, England, Davidson left school at 16 to pursue a career in journalism. He worked as a foreign correspondent for notable London publications such as the Economist, before joining Britain's anti-Nazi Special Operations Executive in the late 1930s. Multilingual, imposing, and daring, Davidson coordinated resistance activities in several countries. He parachuted into Yugoslavia, where he joined Tito's Communists in 1943-44, then led a band of partisans who liberated Genoa in neighboring Italy.

After the war, he returned to reporting, based in Paris and writing for leading British newspapers, and he was active in labor causes. In the 1950s he traveled to Africa, the continent to which he devoted his research skills, literary talents, and political militancy for the remainder of his life.

Inspired by the anti-colonial movement sweeping Africa and committed to the Pan-Africanist program of Africa's new leaders, Davidson immersed himself in writing about Africa's present and past. His early, now classic, studies of Africa were published at a time when much of the continent was under colonial occupation, Jim Crow racism prevailed in the American South, and most Western intellectuals dismissed African history as nonexistent.

Davidson highlighted the magnificence of Africa's distant past, from the ancient city of Meroe to the powerful empire of Mali, in award-winning books such as Lost Cities of Africa (1959). In his effort to counter Western ignorance and stereotypes about Africa, Davidson emphasized its role in world history, educating readers about the invention of iron-working in sub-Saharan Africa, for example. An Afrocentrist, he rejected colonialist scholarship which separated ancient Egypt from the rest of the continent, showing that Egypt was an African civilization. His books also explored the negative consequences of Africa's more recent engagement with Europe, most notably in The African Slave Trade (1961), one of the first comprehensive studies of the subject.  

Davidson covered current events in Africa, too, especially the fight for self-determination. His articles and books written on the front lines of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa helped raise awareness around the world. He shaped British public opinion in favor of decolonization and his publications were devoured by civil rights activists and proponents of ethnic studies in the U.S.

His first African monograph, A Report on Southern Africa (1952), was an eyewitness account of the implementation of the newly enacted policies of racial segregation known as apartheid. His 1951 trip was arranged by the Garment Workers' Union of South Africa and during his visit he met with Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and other leaders of the African National Congress. Later he was deemed a "prohibited immigrant" by the apartheid government and denied entry to South Africa and other white-ruled colonies. Unbowed, he continued to speak out about the crimes of apartheid and he served as vice-president of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain from 1969 to1984.



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