CJ: How did you get to select the writers for the special edition? Were there any special criteria that you were looking for in a writer?
Showing posts with label Haiti: Then and Now Interviews Professor Gershom Williams about Anténor Firmin. Show all posts
Monday, September 14, 2015
Haiti: Then and Now Interviews Professor Gershom Williams about the ideas and legacy of Joseph Anténor Firmin
Haiti: Then and Now Interviews Professor Gershom Williams
Conducted by Dr. Celucien L. Joseph
Professor Gershom Williams
CJ: Greetings Professor Gershom Williams!
Foremost, tell us about yourself?
GW: Before sharing some very brief biographical information about myself I would like to proudly express my most sincere thanks and gratitude to Haiti: Then and Now for the prestigious opportunity to do this exclusive interview regarding our (JPAS) Anténor Firmin literary project. Much thanks and appreciation to Dr. Celucien L. Joseph for his thoughtful consideration and warm invitation he extended to me on behalf of (HTN).
I am the first born son of seven children born to Ollieen (Walker) Williams and Robert H. Williams, Sr. I was born in Evansville, Indiana but grew up in Gary where I attended high school and Indiana University (Northwest Campus). It was during my later years in Gary West Side High School that my whole life’s journey was transformed after I enrolled into a two semester course taught by Mr. Herman Langford titled “Afro-American History.”
In a nutshell, my four decades of research and study into the pre and post enslavement and pre-colonial African cultural heritage, had its genesis while I was still a high school student. I have taught African American History and African Studies for the Maricopa Community College District for over 20 years, with the majority of time as an adjunct faculty teacher in the Social Sciences department at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona.
My articles and historical essays have been published in the Arizona Informant Newspaper, The Journal of African Civilizations, The Journal of African American History, The Journal of Pan African Studies, Odyssey West Magazine and Chicken Bones (online) magazine.
Lastly, I have been married to my beloved soul mate, Mrs. Deborah (Kirkendall) Williams for over 40 years and together we have created five amazing children and at present are blessed with ten wonderful and adorable grandchildren.
CJ: You have served as the guest editor for the JPAS (Journal of Pan African Studies) special issue on the Haitian intellectual, anthropologist, Pan Africanist, Egyptologist, statesman, and lawyer Joseph Antenor Firmin. This special edition, which is now available in paperback for purchase, was published in Winter 2014 by the JPAS. First, how did you come to the knowledge of this great Pan Africanist intellectual?
GW: I was first made aware of the name Anténor Firmin and the title of his monumental 1885 text, The Equality of the Human Races in the spring of 2012. I was engaged in a quite lengthy long distance telephone discussion with a longtime friend and colleague, Larry “Obadele” Williams. Brother Obadele asked me a question that again altered and significantly changed my destiny. He asked, “Are you familiar with the name Anténor Firmin and do you know about his book which he published in 1885?” I replied, “No!”
I assumed that I was well informed and intellectually familiar with all the anti-racist, vindicationist and pan-African scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but upon hearing the name of Haitian pioneer scholar and statesman, Anténor Firmin, I became for the first time determined to purchase and read this recently translated text to learn about Firmin firsthand.
CJ: How did you get to select the writers for the special edition? Were there any special criteria that you were looking for in a writer?
GW: Initially, the idea that came to me after learning about Anténor Firmin and now having read and studied his highly informative and inspirational erudite text, was to write an essay remembering and celebrating Firmin’s intellectual life and legacy and electronically submitting it to the editors of New African Magazine. I felt this essay if published in the latter pan-African literary source would establish and expand a much needed global consciousness for A. Firmin and expedite his rescue from obscurity and marginalization in the African world community.
But after re-thinking the project, I excitedly approached and shared my idea and grand vision with the senior editor of The Journal of Pan African Studies (JPAS). I strongly suggested that JPAS should host a special edition that would pay homage and celebrate the intellectual contribution and scholarly work of Anténor Firmin who was also a pioneer diasporan Pan-Africanist. Itibari M. Zulu, Sr., trusted my request and went ahead to compose and disseminate the “call for papers” to the (JPAS) intellectual inner circle in August 2012, in honor of Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s birthday. One last thing I would like to add here, I decided to title the Anténor Firmin special edition of JPAS “Great African Centered Thinkers” after the special volume of the Journal of African Civilizations, edited by Ivan Van Sertima and my colleague Obadele Williams, titled Great African Thinkers: Volume One-Cheikh Anta Diop. (1988)?
CJ: Did you encounter any challenges in the process of editing some eight chapters for this special issue?
GW: Oh yes! I/we encountered a few major obstacles and challenges, not so much with the collection and editing of essays, but with Dr. Theophile Obenga’s essay on Firmin which was only published in the French language and had not yet been translated for the benefit of English reading audiences. First and foremost, we had to contact Dr. Obenga for two major reasons, one to gain permission to translate and re-publish his essay in JPAS, and two we needed to locate a scholar or qualified individual who was competent and trustworthy enough to credibly translate the scholarly essay on Firmin the Egyptologist which had previously appeared in ANKH Magazine, a French language publication.
I really wanted Dr. Obenga’s essay on Anténor Firmin to appear in our JPAS special issue mainly for the benefit of an English speaking readership who would now gain immediate access and exposure to Firmin as a multi-disciplinary Haitian scholar/intellectual of over a century ago. In addition to Dr. Obenga, there were three other significant scholars whom I strongly felt should contribute to the JPAS Firman literary project; Jacques Georges, Carolyn Fluehr Lobban and Asselin Charles.
CJ: Who is Antenor Firmin? What are Firmin’s main contributions to the disciplines of Black Studies, African American studies, and Africana scholarship?
GW: Joseph Anténor Firmin (1820-1911) is an exceptionally brilliant, extraordinary, multidisciplinary Haitian scholar and statesman. He is deservingly recognized as the first Anthropologist and probably Egyptologist of African descent in the diasporan world in the late nineteenth century. Firmin published The Equality of the Human Races: Positivist Anthropology in 1885. The latter text is the world’s first sustained book length response to Euro-American “scientific racism”. An international school of racial typology favoring the superiority of Caucasian’s over all people of color had begun to develop and publically express itself in Britain by Charles Hamilton Smith (1848), and Robert Knox (1850), in France by Arthur de Gobineau (1853), in the United States by Samuel Morton (1839, 1844), Josiah Clark Nott and George Robbins Gliddon (1854) and in Germany by Karl Vogt (1863).
This international school propagating the pseudo-science of biological and intellectual inferiority of African descended people, has been referred to as “scientific racism”. The anti-racist anthropologist, Ashley Montague has accurately observed, “…throughout the nineteenth century hardly more than a handful of scientific voices were raised against the notion of a hierarchy of races.” Fortunately for all of humanity, Anténor Firmin courageously raised his herculean Haitian literary voice to challenge and meticulously dismantle the dangerous pillars of the race myth and race propaganda.
CJ: Why are his ideas and writings so vital for black scholars (or black scholarship) and people of African descent?
Firmin and his text are a seminal part of a long tradition of intellectual, vindicationist scholarship that seeks to re-conceptualize and reconstruct the historical and cultural position of African people’s achievements and contributions to world history and global civilizations.
It is both important and extremely necessary that we directly link and connect Firmin to his intellectual ancestors and antecedents who were also forcefully enslaved and exiled in the diaspora. When we examine the roots and foundations of pan-Africanist movements and African centered thinking (Africology) we must pay very close attention to Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Paul Cuffe, Martin R. Delaney and Robert Campbell. Firmin is an invaluable and integral player in a long tradition of anti-racist, vindicationist scholars and writers faithfully involved in the reconceptualization and re-construction of the accurate historical record and proper historical image of African descended people.
CJ: As a thinker and scholar of Pan African Studies, how have Firmin’s ideas shape your own thinking about controversial and important issues such as the Greco-Roman intellectual history, the Kemetic (ancient Pharaonic-Egyptian) history and civilization, the indebtedness of Greece to Africa, white racism, white supremacy, and the so-called Western modernity, etc.
GW: In my personal view, Firmin’s enduring intellectual legacy stands on the twin pillars of historical and philosophical truth which he well articulates within his magisterial treatise The Equality of the Human Races. For students and scholars involved in the academic disciplines of Anthropology, Egyptology, Haitian/Caribbean Studies, Black Studies, Pan-African Studies or Colonial/Post-Colonial Studies, there is much to learn from the re-visitation and re-reading of Firmin’s erudite research and meticulous documentation of African initiative and achievements in the Arts and Sciences. Firmin’s appraisal and assessment of the ancient classical writers and the direct connection he makes to contemporary historical figures is brilliantly formulated for the modern reader.
Humanity is moved even closer to a global psychic rehabilitation and an intellectual emancipation that was unfortunately determined by the last 500 years of African enslavement, colonization and colonial mis-education.
Anténor Firmin’s inspirational and transformational life and work can be utilized by academics and non-academics alike to dismantle and defeat the dangerous fallacies and falsifications propagated by the ideology of White racial hierarchy. Certainly in institutions of higher learning across our global village, the ideas of “equality, liberty and fraternity” which reverberate throughout Firmin’s writings can really elevate human consciousness and promote the noble ideas of our oneness, unity, harmony and healing of the monogenetic African family.
My own African centered thinking and intellectual visions have been immensely influenced by the reading and thoughtful reflections on Firmin’s ideas regarding the classical Nile Valley civilizations of Nubia and Egypt (Kemet). All vindicationist writers including Firmin, showcase the countries of Haiti, Ethiopia and Egypt for two very significant reasons. One, it empirically demonstrates the independent pre-colonial and post-colonial intellectual achievements of African people and the second reason clearly illustrates high levels of cultural pride and initiative among people of African ancestry. The aforementioned example powerfully defeats the erroneous but popular ideology of Black intellectual inferiority.
CJ: What would Firmin say about the problems of white supremacy and anti-black racism in the United States at the moment?
Firmin, like those intellectual champions that preceded him, challenged the dominant mainstream historical narrative and boldly redefined who and what it means to be an African person whether one is born in Haiti, America, Brazil, South Africa, Ghana or Ethiopia. We are all children of the motherland, children of the cradle of humanity and primordial civilizations.
My own African centered thinking and intellectual visions have been immensely influenced by the reading and thoughtful reflections on Firmin’s ideas regarding the classical Nile Valley civilizations of Nubia and Egypt (Kemet). All vindicationist writers including Firmin showcase the countries of Haiti, Ethiopia and Egypt for two very significant reasons. One, it empirically demonstrates the independent pre-colonial and post-colonial intellectual achievements of African people and the second reason clearly illustrates high levels of cultural pride and initiative among people of African ancestry. The aforementioned example powerfully defeats the erroneous but popular ideology of Black intellectual inferiority.
CJ: What is Firmin’s legacy for the twenty-first century?
GW: I think that if Firmin were currently with us to witness the present state of global race relations and ever present reality of global White supremacy, in this historic age of Barack Obama, he would be as many of us are, sadly disillusioned and disenchanted. In a chapter of his 1885 text, The Equality of the Human Races, Firmin optimistically predicted that America would elect a Black President within one hundred years. Tragically, 1885 was the very same year that the European scramble for African land and resources culminated with the Berlin Conference that became the catalyst for World War I. The disheartening reality is that Western colonial mis-education and the colonization of African minds continues to plague our world and sadly perpetuates the dangerous race myth of White supremacy. It is profoundly unfortunate that race prejudice and bigotry has accelerated since the late 19th century and has endured into the dawn of the 21st century.
CJ: Prof. Williams, Haiti: Then and Now would like to thank you for your time and this great interview.