Author to discuss Africa's role in shaping modern society Oct. 21

October 13, 2021

The important contributions of Africa to Western society are often overlooked, if not deliberately obliterated in modern history, according to educator, journalist and author Howard W. French.

French will discuss his new book, “Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War,” with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dele Olojede during a History Book Festival virtual event at 5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 21, via Zoom.

A question-and-answer session will follow the authors' discussion.

In a sweeping narrative that spans 600 years, French tells the story of medieval and emerging Africa, demonstrating how the economic ascendancy of Europe, the fulfillment of so-called Enlightenment ideals, and the anchoring of democracy in America all grew out of Europe's dehumanizing engagement with the "darkest" continent.

“Born in Blackness” dramatically retrieves the lives of major historical figures whose stories have been repeatedly erased over centuries, from unimaginably rich African emperors who traded with Asia and Kongo sovereigns who heroically battled 17th-century European powers to formerly enslaved people who liberated Haitians from bondage.

French tells the story of gold, tobacco, sugar, cotton and the greatest "commodity" of all: the millions of people brought in chains from Africa to the New World.

French is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He wrote for The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Olojede is the first African-born winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He earned the award in 2005 while working as Africa correspondent for Newsday, for his series of articles on Rwanda a decade after rape and genocidal slaughter had ravaged the Tutsi tribe. Olojede is a fellow of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, and he serves on the board of Earth University in Costa Rica.

The program is free, but preregistration is required. To reserve a spot, go to

Copies of “Born in Blackness” are available at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, the official bookseller of the History Book Festival. Biblion in Lewes also has copies of the book for sale. Books purchased at either shop come with a signed archival bookplate.

Presenting sponsors of the 2021 History Book Festival are Delaware Humanities and The Lee Ann Wilkinson Group of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gallo Realty. In addition to the Lewes Public Library, the festival’s online programs are supported by the Delaware Division of Libraries and Sussex County Libraries.

The History Book Festival, now in its fifth year, is the first and only book festival in the United States devoted exclusively to history.

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